Butch Walker is a rock ’n’ roll chameleon. The Georgia native began his career playing Southern-boogie hair metal and skinny-tie power-pop in the cult bands SouthGang and Marvelous 3, respectively, before becoming an on-demand producer for pop-punk and Top 40 acts, and a cheeky solo artist fond of homages to glam, new wave, and twang greats. With most other artists, this stylistic gear-shifting would feel chaotic, but Walker’s commitment to emphasizing songwriting first—no matter what the style—has always secured his relevance.
The subdued Afraid Of Ghosts (largely inspired by the death of his father) is Walker’s most vulnerable collection yet. The album’s detailed lyrics delve into regret about wrong choices and lost opportunities, feeling stuck by obligations and facing fears head-on—highlighted by the wrenching “Father’s Day,” which directly addresses his confusion and grief in the aftermath of his dad’s death, while acknowledging that life has to go on. Yet despite the subject matter, these songs aren’t maudlin or rose-colored by nostalgia; they’re stark, straightforward accounts of confronting the past in order to facilitate forward progress.
Musically, Afraid Of Ghosts is also sparse and intimate. More than anything, the record absorbs the influence of producer Ryan Adams (and, specifically, his records with The Cardinals)—from the piano-brushed folk of the title track to the falsetto-and-pedal-steel whispers on “How Are Things, Love?” and the stern strings augmenting the alt-country turbulence of “Bed On Fire.” Yet the record also hints at classic rock (the keening guitar on “21+,” the rollicking, Peter Gabriel-esque acoustic vibe of “I Love You”) and Walker’s metal and punk days: “Father’s Day” ends with a noisy, cathartic guitar solo from Bob Mould.
Historically, Walker has tended to share credit within the critical and commercial successes of which he’s been a part. With Afraid Of Ghosts, he’s boldly put himself in the spotlight—a brave move that pays off with rewarding, enduring songs.