Review Summary: Airbourne's maturation album accomplishes the feat of being exactly as flawed as it is likeable.
When you listen to music – especially a lot
of music, and especially from a reviewer’s point of view – you start to understand that there are only so many types of bands and artists. Sure, there are the innovators, those who come up with something unique and previously unseen. Similarly, there are those who follow a tried-and-true formula, but try to add their little twists, imbuing their music with a sense of passion which legitimizes the appropriation and turns it from ripoff to homage. But then, there is the worst kind of band: the one that does absolutely nothing original, instead jumping on everyone else’s bandwagon and reproducing an established band’s sound to the point where they make it stale, sapping it of whatever characteristics made it interesting in the first place. To the larger public, of course, this doesn’t matter: as long as it sounds good, or catchy, or similar to the bands they already like, they’re going to get the t-shirts and add the band to their last.fm playlists and “Favourite Artists” lists. But for “real” music lovers, this is an irksome tendency which only detracts from the already waning quality of the music market as a whole.
The previous, somewhat long-winded paragraph had the sole purpose of introducing us to a band which straddle the line between homage and outright stealing. I am talking, of course, about Airbourne, an Australian band better known for ripping off their own country’s most successfull rock band, the immortal AC/DC, to a large extent. A very
large extent. In fact, this four-piece’s note-by-note reproduction of the Young brothers’ trademark sound is so thorough, most people lost no time in placing them in the third category mentioned in the opening statement. For most of the music-loving audience, they are nothing but ripoffs, pure and simple, and will never be worthy of any respect in the rock world.
For me, though, the story is a little different. Airbourne happen to be ripping off my favourite band, and while I usually have a very low tolerance for AC/DC impersonators (except Krokus, who at least make me laugh), these guys ended up growing on me, after repeat listens of their breakthrough album, Runnin’ Wild
, and their debut Ready To Rock
. Sure, they were and are ripping off a truly original and grounbreaking band, but at least they’re being open
about it. It’s not like they’re trying to pretend they’re reinventing the wheel or anything; they just want to play some loud, fast rock’n’roll, drink some booze and have some fun – and who can blame them for that!?
However, even looking past the obvious ripoffism, there were quite a few flaws keeping Airbourne from being a truly great band. The most blatant one were the one-note choruses, which usually did little but repeat the title of the song over and over in unimaginative fashion. Similarly, song structures, solos and even riffs sometimes sounded a tad too similar, eventually blending into a big mass of sound from which only one or two standouts emerged.
So now we come to 2010, and the group has just released their third album, No Guts, No Glory
. And guess what? Even though there are some clear signs of maturation, the fundamental problems that plagued Airbourne’s early releases continue to emerge in full force. The main one, of course, is the fact that this group has been writing the same song since their debut album, and that song is an AC/DC song. In fact, all thirteen tracks included here (eighteen on the Special Edition) continue the note-for-note rehashing of songs Malcolm and Angus wrote twenty years ago, peppering it with a good dose of outright theft. Several songs rip their choruses off What Do You Do For Money Honey
; Blonde, Bad and Beautiful
pilfers its intro lead from any number of Thunderstruck
rewrites; White Line Fever
appropriates the riff from Guns For Hire
; and, on the special edition, Loaded Gun
makes a cheap copy of Jailbreak
. Other songs are less specific, merely giving off that “hey, it’s that AC/DC riff” vibe the group has always thrived on. The plagiarism is, however, undeniable at all times, and the best thing one can say is that Airbourne has progressed along AC/DC’s own career, currently finding themselves at around the Flick Of The Switch
Another problem are the lyrics. Airbourne take the “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” cliché to a new level, with literally every song focusing on those subjects. Here, the onslaught continues, and it’s no surprise that the best moment of the album – and the band’s career – comes when they deviate from that path and embrace the topic of suburban neighbourhood identity on Steel Town
. Similarly, the chorus continue to sound a little too repetitive, even though one must applaud the group’s progression – if Runnin’ Wild
upgraded the choruses from one to two sentences, here some of them go as far as having three
. Of course, none of this matters when the choruses work, but here, more often than not, they don’t.
So at this point, you’re asking “why a 3, if you so obviously hate this album?” Well, that’s the point – I don’t
. Not really. As much as I want to rag on Airbourne for being repetitive and derivative, the fact is I had loads of fun with the first part of this album. And even though the second half is bland to the point of nondescriptness, there are at least four songs here worthy of mention. Steel Town
is of course one of them, being the clearest sign of Airbourne’s attempt at maturation; Raise The Flag
, on the other hand, is a rousing, fist-pumping anthem with one of those beats and choruses that you just can’t help but groove along to. Finally, rollicking closer Back To The Bottle
is the third best song on the regular edition of the album, being miles below the other two in terms of quality, but decidedly above most of the rest, as well.
And I say “regular” edition because, as you know, the band have also released a Special Edition, where five new songs contribute to make the tracklist overkill. However, quite apart from the worst title in the history of music (My Dynamite Will Blow You Sky High (And Keep You Moaning After Midnight)
), this package also adds a fourth standout to the album: Kickin’ It Old Skool
, a groovy, funky track which – for once – adds a shred of band personality beyond “AC/DC worship”. Our good pal DaveyBoy’s description of this song – Vanilla Ice meets Nickelback – had me expecting the worst, but I really don’t see where the venerand staffer saw these influences: this is a rock’n’roll track more reminiscent of Krokus than anything else.
Still, the fact remains: over half of this album is, while not bad, terribly nondescript. So much so that we are astonished to discover that the seemingly empty space between two likeable songs actually has two or three tracks crammed into it! Add that with a couple of valid, but failed, attempts at maturation (Bottom Of The Well
) and what we’re left with is an album as flawed and expendable as it is likeable. Dewey Finn - of Schoo of Rock
fame – would definitely approve, but as much as I’d like to recommend this as the definitive Airbourne release (and for a while there, it seemed I would) I still have to urge everyone who is interested in this group to stick with Runnin’ Wild
. Fourth time’s the charm, maybe?
Raise The Flag
Back To The Bottle
Kickin’ It Old Skool