It was genuinely tempting to just copy and paste the intro paragraph from the last time we covered Airbourne for this review, because nothing’s changed. They still worship solely at the altar of AC/DC with any deviation being heresy of the highest order, and they’re still enjoying the fruits of their labour / uncanny ability to copy in a hard rock scene that’s perfectly fine with innovation not so much taking a back seat, but getting out of the car entirely. And to some degree, it’s worth commending Airbourne for building an entire career around a single impersonation without being a cover band, but for as well as they can do this sort of thing in the context of their genre, it doesn’t a genius to predict that it gets really old, really fast. Breakin’ Outta Hell was good at the time but not a single note of it has lasted three years later, and that can mean it’s worth examining how worthwhile Airbourne really are. The reason that AC/DC have prevailed is because they wrote genuinely great and memorable songs in their prime; Airbourne, meanwhile, exist in a time where genre regimentation has effectively been dissolved altogether, and sticking to so rigidly to one single reference point only shows more limitations than benefits on paper.
And that’s pretty much exactly what Boneshaker displays, highlighting the toll that’s been taken on Airbourne thanks to staying in the exact same place for a frankly uncomfortable amount of time. It’s effectively the fifth time they’ve made this exact album, rotating through their own tropes with the ease of a band more than content with spinning their wheels, because it’ll yield a positive result from their fans regardless. That’s basically the extent of Boneshaker’s outreach at the end of the day, but even the primal, red-blooded thrill that was fleeting but at least present in older Airbourne albums doesn’t have nearly as much presence here. They’ve gone down this road so many times now that it’s just become tiresome, as Boneshaker stands as the ticking clock heralding what seems to be the end of Airbourne’s already unsustainable half-life.
Because really, what is there to actually say about this album beyond repeating everything that’s already been said about Airbourne ad nauseum? For one, there’s barely a single musical phrase or melody that doesn’t feel recycled from their own songs; the title track and She Gives Me Hell are both rehashes of the same stomping, juddering riff they’ve already used umpteen times before, while everything else represents the general homogeneity of this band’s output given that it’s effectively all slight variations on one progression. Sure, the slight boogie-rock swagger of Sex To Go is pretty solid, and playing Switchblade Angel with a bit more pace feels like the most tangible throwback to the simple yet adrenalised fare here, but all too often, Airbourne aren’t even digging into their bag of tricks as much as looking at what they’ve already created and replicating it note for note. If it wasn’t for Joel O’Keeffe’s shriek that remains constantly fiery and grizzled to particularly strong effect throughout, Boneshaker would just feel like any other middling revival-rock album where the lack of anything new has really started to catch up and do a number on how workable this all is. You can even tell that Airbourne themselves believe they’re doing something new here as well, given that Dave Cobb is sitting behind the production desk, but rather than any of the warmth or rustic atmosphere in his country work, it sounds exactly the same except the guitar solos are sound noticeably more tinny and grating.
As for the writing, let’s posit the same question as earlier – what is there to say? Airbourne aren’t the sort of band to suddenly get adventurous out of the blue, and if there was ever a point where you can tell they’re scrambling to make their dartboard of rock ‘n’ roll topics last for another album, it’s Boneshaker. There’s the usual indulgence of rockstar libido on the title track and Backseat Boogie, as well as the comparison of sex to food on Sex To Go that’s never worked in the history of time, but then there’s the defaulting to obvious touchstones of cars on Burnout The Nitro, and how rock music is just the greatest thing ever on Rock ‘N’ Roll For Life (which, in itself, already feels like a pretty shameless riff on AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock). The only notable exceptions are Blood In The Water which has O’Keeffe singing from the point of view of a shark for…reasons, and Weapon Of War, which feels like an attempt at criticising the military’s treatment of veterans post-combat which is way above their pay grade thematically. Granted, it’s not the sort of flag-waving jingoism you’d get from Five Finger Death Punch or anything (mostly because Airbourne being Australian would make the disconnect feel enormously stark), but it’s not a bad go at striving to do something more beyond appeal to the basics like so much of this album sticks so religiously to.
But it’s those basics that’ll keep the units moving for Airbourne, especially when they’ve become so established in that lane that the fans aren’t going to want them to change now. And thus, Boneshaker feels like the rote culmination of expectation mixed with the inability to look outwards, as Airbourne keep recycling their own formula without fail, regardless of how worn down it’s getting at this point. It’s not like this is a detestable album either, and especially live, there’s probably some fun to be had, but as a purely audio experience, it’s the sort of thing that’ll leave the listener feeling exactly the same when it’s over as before it begun. There’s nothing interesting or engaging about a band knowingly going through the motions, and the longer that Airbourne carry on doing just that, the more noticeable an already blatant example of stagnation will be.
For fans of: AC/DC, Motörhead, Rose Tattoo
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Boneshaker’ by Airbourne is released on 25th October on Spinefarm Records.