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Airbourne - Black Dog Barking (Album Review)

Friday, 17 May 2013 Written by Simon Ramsay

It's been half a decade since these ageing Aussies released 'Black Ice', the 15th studio album of their hugely influential forty year career. And now.....the wait is over! Angus and the boys are finally back!! It's time to load your guns and board the boogie train for rock & roll central, as the all conquering AC/DC are ready to don schoolboy uniforms, fire canons and seduce vixens the world over following the release of their best new record in donkeys years. What's mightily impressive about 'Black Dog Barking' is it's sheer nuclear energy, as the boys serve up a spellbinding speedball of an album that drags back the clock in sizzling style, featuring ten raucous rockers shot through with so much youthful spunk you'd swear they were actually 30 years younger. Oh, hang on a minute.....

The press blurb for Airbourne's ass kicking new album claims they “call upon the spiritual substance of Thin Lizzy, the gritty pub-crawl vibe of Motörhead, the grandiose theatricality of Judas Priest, the unifying audience domination of Iron Maiden, and the sharp bite of their fellow Australians in the legendary AC/DC.' Hmm. Whilst partially true, this is actually undiluted AC/DC worship of the highest order, and comparisons to other bands are just a deflective smokescreen. The question is, when do inspiration and influence become all out plagiarism? Its a contentious issue that divided the rock community, but what’s undeniable is that Airbourne's third studio album is superior to anything Acca Dacca have managed in decades.

After smashing and crashing onto the scene with 2007's ball breaking 'Runnin Wild', the follow up - 2010's 'No Guts No Glory' - was a mixed bag. Although typically energetic, it felt forced, overthought and lacked the incendiary wallop and infectious hooks of their debut. Lessons have clearly been learnt. Aided by excellent contemporary production from Brian Howes (Hinder) the O’Keefe brothers (Joel – vocals and lead guitar, Ryan – drums) have rediscovered what made ’Runnin Wild’ so great. Only more so. Summoning the primal power of Bon Scott, the antipodean heirs to the throne rip, spit and snarl their way through a superbly sculpted set of songs that are bombastically commercial without ever losing their thrilling off the cuff rawness. As such,(Back In) 'Black Dog Barking' is easily the strongest, most consistent album of Airbourne's career.

Beginning with the live wire stampede of 'Ready To Rock' the spectre of DC immediately looms large as Thuderstruck aping 'woah oh's' give way to a whole lotta riffing, frenzied solos and a blood boiling chorus that's so anthemic it could replace 'Runnin' Wild' as the band's mission statement. If ever a song was tailor made to open a gig, it's this one! Things just gets better and better, with the shock and awe styled 'Firepower' possessing enough heavy artillery to make North Korea beg for mercy, with O'Keefe's inflamed larynx injecting the venom into his cocked & loaded promise of sexual satisfaction.'Hungry' belts out a screaming ode to chasing rock and roll stardom, riding a highway to hell on their heaviest riff to date before cutting loose with a knife wielding solo of razor edged fury, whilst 'No One Fits Me (Better Than You)'s duck walk drive explodes into a hooliganistic chorus that grabs subtlety by the bollocks and dares it to squeal!

The band have spoken about wanting to channel the techniques of legendary producer Mutt Lange, and his canny melodic sensibilities are all over the album's fantastic backing vocals. From the horny cave-man-crotch-thrust of 'Animalize', whose chorus sounds like a cross between Mutt's 80's work with DC and Def Leppard, it's beer drinking shout outs aplenty, highlighting Airbourne's wicked way with a brain shaking hook. Repeatedly building to such samey pay offs could become a touch too much, but when tunes groove with the prowling thump and radio friendly clout of 'Back In The Game', sinful swaying verve of 'Woman Like That' and foundation shaking thunder of 'Live It Up', such infectious zest is hard to fault.

Lyrically, the boys still focus on themes of environmental awareness, metaphysical spirituality and women's rights. Only joking! It's all about embracing no nonsense rock & roll, fighting for what you believe in and kicking maximum caboose in the process. As well as performing dirty deeds with girl's who've got pink sinking rhythm! Whilst as delicate as a jack hammer, its delightfully tongue in cheek with rhymes like 'a mouth full of garter is just the starter, into the main course she's making it harder'! Most surprising, however, is the album's closing ballad, a beautiful string soaked serenade penned especially for the band by Diane Warren. And if you believe that..... The record actually finishes with the heroic vitriol of the title track, O’Keefe unleashing a pissed off diatribe against talentless tossers who appear on reality TV shows. Expressive lines like 'Hey gutless Idol with nothing on the inside....Every kid with a guitar is gonna show you how it's done' are sure to win sizeable kudos from anyone with 100% proof rock & roll coursing through their veins.

Let's be clear; 'Black Dog Barking' ain't big, it's ain't clever and it sure as shit ain't original. It's earth shaking power chords, hellfire solos and fat chewing hooks are as derivative as they come. But by god and sweet Jesus, it's impossible not to love the hell out of this album! It's a propulsive powder keg that demands banging heads, stamping feet and pumping fists - from neck snapping start to back cracking finish. Yep, it's thoroughly one dimensional, but unlike 'No Guts No Glory' BDB just about swerves repetition with ten perfectly paced tracks that dont outstay their welcome. With regards the copycat debate, it's quite simple. Airbourne aren't trying to reinvent the wheel and there's little validity in getting too pseudo intellectual about them. They’re just trying to be a kick ass, full throttle, whiskey drinking, girl shagging, un PC rock band. With that in mind, they couldn't be doing it any better! Besides, with Angus' mob winding down it's reassuring to have a group who are truly dedicated to keeping this kind of music alive. No one has resuscitated primordial honest to goodness rock & roll with the panache and potency of Airbourne. For that alone, respect is due.

'Black Dog Barking' is released on Monday 20th May via Roadrunner.

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