Review Summary: John Butler should be a boxer, because he just pulled one mean punch.
In my review for The John Butler Trio’s fourth album, Grand National
, I used the metaphor of it being the “middle-child” in regards to the rest of their discography. To further the analogy, John Butler
is the arrogant eldest child, Three
dislikes John Butler
and tries his best to improve upon the original design, Sunrise Over Sea
is a mature child, exploring its own abilities and often leaving the other two to their own bickering devices. Grand National
, to me, represents the awkward transitional stage where Butler couldn’t decide between his folk style and his alt. rock style. He’s not as talented as the other brothers but he’s still good at what he does. Nobody hates him, but nobody loves him either. Well now we come to April Uprising
, the youngest sibling. This will probably surprise you, hell it surprised me (hence the pun in the summary), but it actually isn’t as much of a brat as you’d think. Its older brethren may look down on it because it’s “different” and… well let’s just get this over with… when compared to the other albums it’s the stupid one in the bunch. Ultimately though, it accomplishes what it desires, and you can’t fault it for that. Particularly since what it accomplishes isn’t all that bad. April Uprising
isn’t worried about the transitional stage, like the next eldest brother, because he’s already passed it and reached the other side, the alternative rock side.
So here’s the dilemma: If you take April Uprising
on its own then it is nothing more then an excellent alternative rock record. When taken in the context of the trio’s career, however, it’s close to trash. Nicky Bomba (the drummer from Sunrise Over Sea
) has performed better before and Byron Luiters (Shannon Birchall’s replacement on bass) may be groovy, but he just can’t match the sheer warmth that Birchall produced on his double-bass, no matter how much he tries. Usually when describing John Butler’s guitar playing the words finger-picking, unique, and skilful come to mind. That doesn’t apply here. On April Uprising he trades that in for rock riffs and chord progressions. They’re good riffs, that’s undeniable, but when choosing between guitar playing that only a few people can play, or guitar playing that’s seen regularly just about everywhere, the choice should be obvious.
Therefore, in an attempt to remain unbiased, I kept the rating at where I believe this would be if a band like Eskimo Joe (an easy comparison to make) made this album. What would you rate this if you knew this was all a band was capable of? With that logic this can be seen as fantastic alternative rock record. The choruses are insanely catchy, the riffs aren’t totally unoriginal, all parties perform admirably, and the lyrics are excellent. Actually, the lyrics are pretty much the only thing pushing this to a 4 (its back end tends to drag, so otherwise this would have been a 3.5). At least Butler hasn’t neglected the writing side of things. An interesting thing has happened as well, there’s only one reference to an Australian prime-minister, and Butler names him directly. It appears that the man who was outspoken about his hatred of Australia’s political system actually doesn’t have a problem with Kevin Rudd. That one reference is “Johnny’s Gone”, where he sings about how John Howard got defeated by Kevin Rudd in the 2007 election. Butler uses the metaphor of Howard running away from a crime-scene and ignoring what he’s left behind.
“Johnny’s in the backseat of a car,
Driving don’t know where he’s going
Yes we got a full-tank, yeah, by far,
But we are empty-rolling
And we’ve forgotten so many passenger
And you know the car is stolen,
I’m freakin’ in the front seat now yeah,
Sitting with a gun that’s smoking”
He also tackles issues that he never has before, like teenage self-esteem. In “Look Like You” he puts himself in the position of an adolescent girl looking in the mirror and wishing she looked like the latest trendy model. He turns the word “photograph” into “bullet”, creating a surprisingly poignant message alongside the catchy chorus. (“I’d do anything in this world/To look like you”).
If you only got into The John Butler Trio because of Butler’s guitar playing then avoid April Uprising
, it won’t satisfy you and you’ll most likely regret spending the money on it. If you want a great alt. rock album that can be compared to Eskimo Joe as well as Iron & Wine (it has to be said that their attempts at mellow folk are good, though they’re not the strongest songs on the album) then this is your thing. I, unfortunately, belong to the former category and, as a result, will probably avoid the next album.