If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery then ACDC should feel very flattered that, after all these years, a group of young bucks, from Australia no less, should care so much about holding the flame of rock ‘n’ roll aloft into the next generation. What makes ACDC so special is there absolute lack of interest in genres, which explains their simultaneous appeal to rock, metal and punk fans, adhering to all of those genres and none with a sense of glorious abandon that burns brightly even in the darkest environs. Similarly, Airborne, no mere copyists I hasten to add, blaze brightly because they have tapped into that same wonderfully hedonistic vein, channelling the melody and power of ACDC with a vitality that transcends the everyday and draws the listener headlong into a world of fast cars, fast women and quantities of alcohol that would send your personal physician into fits of despair about the future prospects of your liver. It’s familiar ground, of course, but trod with a panache and charm that will cause you to forgive Airbourne just about anything as long as they keep those glorious riffs coming.
So, even with its bonus tracks, ‘black dog barking’ adheres to the vinyl era by only just scraping three quarters of an hour, it’s thirteen tracks zooming past with a speed and fury that is near dizzying. ‘Ready to rock’ opens with a gang chorus that sounds like Airbourne recorded a particularly rowdy crowd at a festival, before charging into a flurry of sleazy riffs and Joel O’Keeffe’s hellishly strained vocals. By the time the first song is done with you, you certainly will be ready to rock and more as the blistering solos melt away only to reveal the equally enthusiastic beer fuelled blast of ‘Animalize’. A nod, a wink and a touch of sadomasochism rear up in the lascivious groove of ‘no one fits me (better than you)’ with its huge, seemingly innocuous chorus, another trick that ACDC more or less wrote the book upon – it’s impossible to listen to this track and not grin like a Cheshire cat whilst wind-milling wildly to the beat. ‘Back in the game’ passes by in a furious haze of alcohol fumes and lust whilst ‘firepower’ is most certainly not about military hardware.
Although maintaining the pace is important, Airbourne also appreciate the value of taking things down a notch, and so ‘live it up’ builds slowly to the full-on electric assault found elsewhere, making it a great potential set opener, whilst the dynamic approach also makes the impact of the chorus all the more satisfying when it does arrive (as inevitably it must). ‘Woman like that’ is an ode to dirty lust, creased and stained and stuffed under a mattress for safe-keeping; ‘hungry’ the sort of classic youth anthem so few bands actually bother to write anymore, keeping good company with Alice Cooper and Motley Crue thanks to it being imbued with a riff designed to cut glass. And then there’s the highlight… Right at the heart of the album, a nicotine-stained, booze fuelled classic that is guaranteed to make you fall instantly in love with ‘black dog barking’. A monumental sucker punch that leaves you reeling, ‘cradle to the grave’ is the anthem that Airbourne have been building up to and it towers over the competition like the perfectly-formed shadow of a giant Les Paul guitar, oozing machismo and rock ‘n’ roll spirit. The album’s final raucous cut (if you have the standard edition) is the title track and, like its predecessor, it sees Airbourne hit their peak with an effortless grace that is as swaggering as Robert Plant in his pomp and wearing trousers twice as tight.
With ten songs dispatched in record time, Airbourne neatly justify the hype that has built up around them and guaranteed their longevity as a rock institution. Each song oozes personality and style and there’s no weak link to speak of. In thrall to ACDC, best experienced with beer and mates, ‘black dog barking’ is not an album for the experimentally minded, but for those looking for a vital shot of adrenalin and whose ACDC albums are thoroughly scratched by endless spins with poor needles, ‘black dog barking’ is the band’s best effort yet and a cracking summer release that sweats and snarls with libidinous joy from start to finish – expect it to be glued to your stereo for weeks.
Special edition supplemental
Of course, this being the cynical age that it is no good album is released in just one version. The special edition adds three bonus tracks to the main disc – the sneering, blues-orientated ‘jack Attack’ that sounds as if the band reanimated Bon Scott and pumped him full of drugs before letting him loose in the studio; a cracking number named ‘you got the skills (to pay the bills) and the brilliantly hormonally-charged ‘party in the penthouse’ which may be the story of every Airbourne after party ever, condensed into one sticky ode to good times.
As if that wasn’t enough you also get a second disc with some thrillingly raw live cuts from Wacken Open Air, perfectly highlighting the fact that, like ACDC, Airbourne know exactly how to mould a metal audience to their desires as they hurl out anthems such as ‘raise the flag’ and ‘born to kill’. Sure it’s raw and ragged, but by God does it rock and it’s a perfect taster of what we can look forward to when the band next hit UK shores. In short, spend a couple of extra pounds (at time of writing the normal version is £8.99 to the special edition’s £9.99) and get a blisteringly brilliant live set and three rocking bonus tracks for your trouble – surely one of the better musical bargains of recent years.