Airport is the latest vehicle fronted by current Buzzcocks bassist Tony Barber. That in itself should already tell you a bit about what the music sounds like. So to dispose with the comparisons early on in this review, I’ll just say that if you like music by the Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks, M, Buggles, Gary Numan, or Spacehog, then you’re going to find a lot to like in Lift Off with Airport. To put it directly, this album is simply smashing.
It has the sneer of the old punks, the kookiness of the best of the New Wave, and a whole lot of topical subject matter that distances itself from all of the current Britpop and retro-pop that puts its money on being nostalgic and not offering an actual payoff. The biting satire comes across early on in the first track “9T’s Problems” as Barber sings “The way the world is turning, baby / It’s turning to shit right in front of our eyes!” as he straps on his best Johnny Rotten voice. “No free love, it didn’t go that far / It’s all over now, it’s nostalgia”.
From there, Barber takes out his frustrations on a range of topics that quickly send one back to the heydays of skinny tie pessimism and tight pop that died out around 1981. It’s a more than welcome return in Barber’s hands as he goes for the robotic throat in “Self-Service”. “I don’t want to be in love / ‘Cause no one else’s hand will fit my glove”. Accordingly, the music is as cheeky as the lyrics with plenty of two chord stop-start rhythms and spacey bleeps and squiggles issuing from the synth.
“Newtown Shakedown” and “International Sham” sport the biggest hooks on the album. Lots of nice chorus effect on the guitars and plenty of retro-‘80s synths in “Shakedown” as Barber updates “Video Killed The Radio Star” with a bigger set of balls and a greater sense of melody, not to mention the kitschy vocoder treatments that make the tune that much more enjoyable. “International Sham” enters Numan/Kraftwerk territory with its lyrics about cars, consumer products, and the living that goes with them. But it’s when the chorus kicks in that the song really takes off and makes you hate your toast-r-oven and Quisinart. At times, the lyrics almost dip into a “We Didn’t Start The Fire” kind of rhythm, but Barber kills in his song where Billy Joel didn’t manage to say much of anything.
Elsewhere, Barber explores such subjects as “Paranoia” and declares that “Monotony Rools OK!” For once on an album, the hipster titles deliver the goods with punchy music that makes them every bit as good as you could hope for. It’s hard to not get carried away by the guitar and keys on “Hang-Ups”, the heavy beat of “Symphony of the City”, or the snot-nosed fun of “Cheap Excitement”. “I like cheap thrills, who needs French films? / I got a ticket to the lottery / I gotta get some cheap excitement”. Rock and roll thrills in their simplest form.
There’s not a bad moment on Lift Off with Airport. Some numbers, like “I Got the Millennium Blues” are a bit sketchy, but overall this album is a welcome reminder of how things used to be in rock for a brief moment of time when disco died and the gap was filled by a bunch of angry and talented kids who took over the record sales for a while. Tony Barber has done well with this release. Whether or not he can sustain this kind of momentum in the future is questionable, given the fine line between cool retro and simply derivative, but for now that’s nothing to worry about. Lift Off with Airport is a definite keeper.