Every generation needs an AC/DC. Despite losing their original lead singer, Bon Scott, in 1980, AC/DC has managed to hang around for a few generations thanks to replacement Brian Johnson. However, with guitarist Angus Young getting dangerously close to 60, there’s something about him prancing around in a schoolboy outfit that has lost some of its original appeal. That isn’t to say AC/DC has lost their touch, they’re still one of the most entertaining live acts in the world, but when the time comes to officially pass the torch, no band is better suited for the handoff than Airbourne.
AC/DC and Airbourne are both Australian hard rock bands formed by brothers with a knack for a hook and a love of sleazy women. The only real difference is AC/DC got their start forty years ago. Airbourne, on the other hand is only three albums into their career, if you include “Black Dog Barking.” On their first two records, 2007’s “Runnin’ Wild” and 2010’s “No Guts, No Glory,” Airbourne drew countless comparisons to AC/DC and the endearing thing about them is they’re perfectly fine with that. For Airbourne, being derivative isn’t shunned, like it is with nearly every new band trying to establish an identity, it’s embraced. AC/DC has been following the exact same formula for forty years and it has worked out well for them so why not join in the fun?
It isn’t as easy as it looks, however. “No Guts, No Glory” followed Airbourne’s phenomenal debut with a lot of filler material. That isn’t to say that tracks like “Get Busy Livin’” and “Overdrive” are particularly bad, they’re not, but bands like AC/DC and not Airbourne make a living off of singles. When’s the last time you’ve heard an AC/DC fan say “you have to hear the album ‘Fly on the Wall.’” Here’s a hint: no one has ever said that. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that when Airbourne was only on their second album and they were already phoning it in, fans were a little nervous about the band’s future.
Thankfully, “Black Dog Barking” is a complete return to form. Even the album’s cover art is back to the black, white, and red of their debut. Opening with “Ready to Rock,” Airbourne asks listeners a question they already know the answer to: “are you ready to rock?” Although they never come out and say it, if the answer is no, you should probably stop listening; that is, if you can stop banging your head long enough to press the stop button.
As I mentioned previously, for bands like Airbourne, singles pay the bills and the first two off of “Black Dog Barking,” “Live It Up” and “No One Fits Me (Better than You),” rank right up there with “Runnin’ Wild” and “Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast.” Their debut’s singles still reign supreme, but as a whole, “Black Dog Barking” is the most consistently solid album they’ve released to date.
The highlight of “Black Dog Barking” is “Live It Up,” which opens like a sequel to AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” before exploding into their customary call and response style chorus. Throw in a fast-paced guitar solo or two and that pretty much sums up the band’s formula. If it sounds simple and repetitive, it is, but nobody’s doing that version of rock better than Airbourne right now.
Many bands have attempted to follow in AC/DC’s footsteps, but what makes Airbourne different is they aren’t afraid of criticism. Joel O’Keeffe’s voice may be harsh, but he ceaselessly shouts every note like it’s his last. Ryan O’Keeffe’s drumming may be composed almost entirely of kick and snare, but he holds a beat you can punch the air with and isn’t that what really matters? They make simple, straightforward rock and roll and if that’s not what you’re looking for, go listen to something else. I’m sure they don’t care.