Monday, October 3, 2016

Album Review: Airbourne - "Breakin' Outta Hell"

Airbourne has come a long way since their inception, but the Australians seem to be travelling on a nearly circular track.  That’s not meant as an insult, particularly in light of the fact that the band is following very much in the hallowed footsteps of a true giant in countrymates AC/DC.  (Sidebar: Airbourne may or may not like that they are so frequently cast in that other band’s shadow, but it is the reality of the game for them, better or worse.)  The ability to deliver consistent content spread over a series of years is to Airbourne’s benefit, therefore the fact that despite various trial and tribulations the band releases consistent product is all to the good.

So how did we get here?  The journey began with the excellent and highly promising “Runnin’ Wild,” a powerhouse debut that granted the band instant commercial exposure and the height of success.  What followed is an up and down road – sophomore album “No Guts, No Glory” was a much more muted experience, recorded at the end of a seemingly endless slog of tours and appearances.  Three years ago, “Black Dog Barking” brought band closer to center and now here we are with “Breakin’ Outta Hell,” the band’s fourth record, again released after a three year interval.

“Breakin’ Outta Hell” bears many of the same hallmarks that made “Runnin’ Wild” work so well in the first place.  There are big choruses, toe-tapping drum beats and simple but effective guitar work.  This is an album of power and virility, combining profanity and adrenaline and a party sentiment with powerful but stable rock and roll.  Seems a simple formula, and if we’re being honest, it is – but it works.  The title track, which also opens the record, is a thumping, well-paced introduction to the kind of experience we can expect for the duration.

The second cut is the anthemic “Rivalry,” which follows all the same steps and works in the same manner as the best Airbourne songs of the past.  The pace is deliberate, the lyrics direct and the chorus amplified, if perhaps the verses and breakdown are a little more muted that would have been optimal.  There’s only one flaw in the song, which is that from first stanza, you can almost detect that this song was written with commercial purposes in mind.  It’s too easy to picture this track as part of a late-season college football broadcast or any number of upcoming NHL regular season games.  That doesn’t make the song bad, but it does cheapen it a little.

About halfway down there’s “Thin the Blood,” and this is where Airbourne has always stood out from their contemporaries and even put a leg up on their forefathers – the ability to consistently and thoroughly inject some speed into the proceedings, which really pushes the song’s pulse up and makes the listener bop along.  It’s not all that different from the dialogue between Bart and Homer about doing things the ‘Max Power way.’  “There’s three ways to do things – the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way.” “Isn’t that the wrong way?” “Yes, but faster.”

Other than that, much of the bulk of “Breakin’ Outta Hell” is standard fare – partying, drinking, fighting, the virtues of rock and roll and lovema-….oh.

…okay, let’s talk about that last one for a second.  Airbourne is not at all shy about the subject of women; NOT AT ALL SHY.  Maybe I’m getting old, but a little humility would have helped here, because let me tell you, a song like “Down On You” is alarmingly candid about its subject matter, not even couched within the juvenile metaphors that rock has used for fifty or more years.  “Do Me Like You Do Yourself” isn’t exactly leaving much to the imagination.  It’s frankly sort of gross.  Take that for what you will.

Neither here nor there, the album cover looks like that one boss fight from "Contra III: The Alien Wars," but with hair.

It probably sounds like I’m especially down on “Breakin’ Outta Hell,” which isn’t the case at all, so let me apologize if I’ve been damning with faint praise.  This is a good album.  By most standards, a very good album.  But ‘very good album’ is probably about as far as it goes.  For all that this new record is better than the two albums which preceded it, it’s not quite to the level of “Runnin’ Wild.”  For all that, the real takeaway here is that Airbourne knows what they’re doing and still knows how to deliver a consistent product more than ten years later.

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