For every fan of cutting edge music, there are dozens and dozens of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. “The hell with innovation and new ideas in modern music, just give us some simple, catchy, heavy rock ‘n’ roll that’s about riffs, shout-along choruses, gigantic hooks, and most of all, having a good time.” Just how starved was the world for this kind of music two years ago? Take a look at the sales of AC/DC’s Black Ice. In an industry that’s been plagued by sagging album sales, the mighty Aussies have sold well over six million copies worldwide so far, playing to sold-out football stadiums everywhere they go. The simple fact is, even when you spend all your time searching for the coolest new sounds, whether indie rock or extreme metal, sometimes all it takes are three chords, lyrics about booze and women, and a palpable swagger to scratch that musical itch.
Take Airbourne, for instance. In an age where mainstream modern rock couldn’t be more boring, their debut album Runnin’ Wild brought some very welcome positive energy to a stagnating genre thanks to its anthems about raising hell, cheap women, and most of all, espousing the greatness of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course it lacks originality. That’s all part of the fun. Bands like Kix, Dangerous Toys, and the Four Horsemen knew this 20 years ago, and Airbourne follow in the same tradition, shamelessly recycling riffs created by their fellow countrymen AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, and the Angels, but doing so with a sense of joy that many of us had thought had been long dead.
So after that well-received breakthrough, how does a band like Airbourne follow that sucker up? By getting all sullen and pensive with a stereotypical second album about the hard life on the road, written on buses and in hotel rooms? By attempting to show that they’re a much deeper group of musicians than people might suspect? By trying to broaden their sound beyond the many clichés spewed on their first record? Hearing the robust No Guts. No Glory., the answer is a resounding no, no, and hell, no. And thank goodness for that, too.
Not a lick has changed on the new album. Well, that’s not entirely true, as the band has moved on to including the kind of over-the-top cover art that pushes the adjective “absurd” to its absolute extreme. But pop that disc in, and it continues right where Runnin’ Wild left off. This time around, they’ve hooked up with Chicago producer John Karzakis, better known as Johnny K, whose resume includes best-selling albums by Disturbed, Staind, and Three Doors Down. Interestingly, those three bands epitomize the boring, morose hard rock that Airbourne serves as such a refreshing tonic from, but thankfully Karzakis lets the band do what they do best, presenting it all in a slick, well-produced package that still maintains the kind of grit that this band needs on record.
The only question that remains is just how much better the new songs are than the last album, and that’s where things get a little hazy. Clearly modeled after AC/DC’s more bad-ass Bon Scott fare like “Dog Eat Dog”, “Born to Kill” has an effective bite to it, while “Back on the Bottle” shamelessly swipes the rhythm riff from “Let There Be Rock”. “Overdrive”, on the other hand, is such a dead-on imitation of Black Ice that it could easily fit on that record. Gleefully rife with “fight for rock” clichés, “Raise the Flag” is a raucous hard rocker, and “Bottom of the Well” feels cut from the same cloth as the great UFO. It’s actually the mid-tempo songs where No Guts. No Glory. starts to flag, as “No Way But the Hard Way” and “Blonde, Bad and Beautiful” coast along, feeling lazy while the other 11 songs at the very least feel impassioned. And when you’ve got a band without an ounce of originality whatsoever, that passion is the only way an album like this is going to work. Whether or not this is a “buyer” depends on just how much you crave rock music as big, dumb, and fun as this.
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// Notes from the Road
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