Anyone who comes to Ghost On The Canvas unaware that Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s disease and plans to make this his final album will be tipped off by the record’s dour opening tracks. “I have lived and I have loved, Lord, sometimes at such a cost,” he sings on “A Better Place,” and it’s clear which place he’s referring to. On subsequent songs, like the title track (which quotes the distinctive beeping sound from “Wichita Lineman”) and “A Thousand Lifetimes” (which mimics the song’s memorably twangy guitar solo), Campbell assesses his life’s triumphs and failures, both professional and personal, tying up all the loose ends while he still can. It’s a dying man’s eulogy to himself, and it’s as emotionally hefty as that implies. But while Campbell always sounds dignified on Canvas, the weight of his circumstances threatens to crowd out the actual music in the early going.
The album improves appreciably by the time of “In My Arms,” a bouncy pop song featuring the affable supporting cast of Chris Isaak, Brian Setzer, and Dick Dale, who leaven the album’s somber mood. Paul Westerberg’s rocking “Any Trouble” is similarly refreshing, addressing death with his usual tough-guy sensitivity. But Campbell’s touching rendition of Robert Pollard’s “Hold On Hope” is the real highlight; when he sings “Invitation to the last dance, then it’s time to leave,” it’s a reminder that Campbell’s best recordings will be remembered for evoking melancholy, poetically and economically, rather than addressing it directly. As a cap on that career, Ghost On The Canvas is an inconsistent but moving summation.