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Music Reviews

Album Review: John the Ghost – I Only Want to Live Once

“Goodbye sorrow, my oldest friend / Take it easy, I ain’t comin’ back again”

We all know that 2020 sucked for a lot of reasons. But if one good thing came out of a worldwide pandemic it was that forced isolation gave John the Ghost—aka John O’Callaghan, lead singer of The Maine—time to work on his debut solo album. I Only Want to Live Once is the result of a passionate and talented musician let loose to do whatever he wants…and, of course, it all works. 

Each track brings its own unique sound, blending together to paint a portrait of what it’s like to be human, with all our joys and sorrows and every feeling in between. The first single, “Rolled Down Window” is a retro bop that reminds us of freedom and warm weather, of skipping out of work early on a Friday to get our weekend started. “Live Once” is my personal mantra for 2021, the encouragement we need to get up and tackle every day—no matter how awful the world is, we only get one life so we might as well live it. The almost calliope-esque piano keeps it light and bouncy despite the serious sentiments behind the lyrics.

Meanwhile, the dreamy “Drive” makes us yearn for an escape, for a minute or two away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s especially poignant in a year when most of us are stuck in one place and could all use a break. O’Callaghan’s soft vocals carry us away until we can practically see the sunset for ourselves.

Like any O’Callaghan-penned album, each song offers standout lines—it’s impossible to pick a favorite lyric because every track is packed with meaning, not a word out of place. The bridge in “The Patterns”, while emotional on its own, begs to be screamed at the top of your lungs. I want nothing more than to stand in a crowded venue with hundreds of other fans, all experiencing the song at the same time. “Y” is a clever dance-y song that questions the time we waste on “momentary highs” instead of looking for something deeper; similarly “No Life at All” comments on how fickle people can be, making connections more difficult than they need to be.

“Here-Gone” offers an unexpected but nonetheless satisfying feature from De’Wayne whose sleek rap helps O’Callaghan deliver a heartfelt message of making the most of what we have with the time we’re given. “Soso” sounds like it could fit just as easily on a The Maine album with its bold guitar hook and drum-filled outro. And the final track “8” brings it all together with an ethereal piano-based melody and lyrics about staying by someone’s side during a painful time with words so visceral you’ll feel it in your whole chest.  

Whether you come into the John the Ghost album as a new listener or a longtime fan of The Maine, you’ll find a song that speaks to your current state of mind. There’s no denying that O’Callaghan has a vital talent that makes his work so relatable—when else has anyone so perfectly captured what it feels like to be alive?

Buy it, Stream it, or Skip it? Buy it. If you could only pick one album to accurately sum up what it’s like living through a worldwide pandemic, John the Ghost is here for you.