AIRBAG – Disconnected

airbag disconnected lpIn 2013, Norwegian prog rockers Airbag released their critically acclaimed third album ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Naturally, in some quarters of proggy fandom, people got excited. In some ways they were right enough to do so, since the album contained some fine music; it was all very well played and excellently produced. In other ways, it was hard to understand the hype. For all of Airbag’s obvious talents, the music all too often sounded as if it had been plagiarised from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘The Division Bell’. There came a point – fairly quickly, too – where you could legitimately ask why you’d spend quality listening time with music derived from such classics in a very obvious way, when you could put on a Floyd disc and hear it all done properly?

The same problem runs deeply through the veins of their 2016 release ‘Disconnected’. In just under an hour, Airbag show off their musical skills, but also expose a painful lack of imagination by pilfering from other bands – mainly Pink Floyd – at almost every turn.

The opening track ‘Killer’ begins with a sharp chord and then it moves quickly into a muted guitar part that sounds like a faint ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part 1’ overlaid with the chord structure of ‘Keep Talking’. The verse moves into something vaguely more interesting – a sort of Floyd/Anathema hybrid – where the bassline shines through as the strongest aspect. The sound is warm and surprisingly large, while a naturalistic vocal line pushes everything forward. A reasonable chorus hook asserts Airbag’s abilities as song writers – an aspect they approach with more force than some of their peers – before a featured guitar solo returns everything into shameless Floydian love. A quiet interlude welcomes the track’s second movement, a Floydish instrumental, making better use of those earlier muted sounds, before huge crashing chords make it almost impossible not to make a direct comparison with ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. It’s certainly heavier, but the anchoring bass part makes it such an obvious reference point. This track is well played and all, but actually hearing more of Airbag rather than the sum of their influences would have been more enjoyable.

‘Broken’ presents a slow, whining acoustic intro, augmented by a slightly disconnected voice and a few clanky mechanical sounds. The effect of hearing this for the first time is like being given a sneaky look into something left over from Porcupine Tree’s ‘In Absentia’ sessions. While this comes, once again, with absolutely zero originality, it’s strangely satisfying to hear them lifting ideas from someone who isn’t called David or Roger. Not that it lasts, of course; by the time the slow and very structured arrangement lurches forward, the soaring guitar and slightly wistful voice evokes memories of at least three tracks from ‘The Division Bell’. If by this point you’ve not actually pushed the stop button on your music player of choice and chosen to listen to Floyd’s 1993 masterpiece instead of this plagiarised nonsense, then – quite frankly – more fool you. Assuming anyone’s still listening by the track’s end, as if the sledgehammer Floyd rip-off moments haven’t quite hit home yet, the guitar solo is more than happy to oblige by dropping in a couple of moments that are a shameless retread of ‘Comfortably Numb’, right down to a couple of arpeggios that David Gilmour has played more than once or twice. There’s homage and then there’s shameless stealing: Airbag could easily be accused of the latter. Seriously, why listen to this when you can listen to ‘The Division Bell’ instead?

Stretching across almost nine minutes, ‘Slave’ builds up some electronic atmospheres before a slightly unnerved vocal cries out and breaks the minimalist noise. With a steady bass and slow beat, a huge chunk of what follows hovers somewhere between Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Gazpacho, but displays not one iota of those bands’ sense of vision. By five minutes in, this particular number hasn’t really gone anywhere and by the time the inevitable solo appears – this time, averagely played, lacking in any real heart and ending with the expected Gilmour rip-off – this has already marked its place as sheer filler. Likewise, ‘Sleepwalker’ spends over seven minutes exploring a slow bass riff and big ringing chords – like an Anathema reject – going nowhere, with a frontman feigning emotion. There’s even less to say about this track; it really is a dull, lifeless amble through territory that’s so well worn it has nothing more to give. …And for the big climax, you guessed it – another solo that’s from Bjorn Riis’s Gimour-by-numbers handbook. Change the record, guys, for fuck’s sake…we know you like Pink Floyd, but could you move on now, please? This is just tedious.

Presumably the band feels the title track will be heralded as the album’s supposed masterwork since it takes up the better part of a quarter of an hour, but in truth, the time spent listening to this could be filled by most of side one of any classic LP from the 70s you’d care to name. It’s guaranteed that would be time better spent, unless of course you relish the idea of Airbag repeating themselves ad nauseum over yet another return of the ‘Another Brick’ inspired riff… On the plus side, the rhythm track is more interesting than most on this release (though Steven Wilson will be asking for it back later, lads), but it’s not enough to save face. Moving from the ambling and questioning style of the first couple of verses (which seem to go on forever), things toughen up for a relatively lengthy instrumental break. This shows off some solid playing, though precious little that suggests Airbag are about to push prog in anything like an actually progressive direction. “Wasted, bored to death…” opines the lyric without the merest hint of irony, “fade away, fade and disappear”… It’s a bit less Floyd obsessed, but the harder riffs have a whiff of ‘Deadwing’ about them and it might be fair to say that although this is a valiant effort to move in a heavier direction, it’s no ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’. Closing this desperately uninteresting long player, ‘Returned’ presents a clean-ish guitar working an almost circular riff throughout. An attempt at finishing on a more sombre note, but as far as musical ideas go, it’s a little too simplistic. The lacklustre vocal only adds to the maudlin feel and it all ends up like a Porcupine Tree tune that had sat unloved in a vault since 2002. It’s much shorter than most of the padded out material on this LP and less of a Gilmour love-fest, but not in any way memorable.

If you want retro prog for retro prog’s sake, played with impeccable fluidity but absolutely no imagination, then Airbag come up trumps throughout every second of ‘Disconnected’. For those who never listen to anything but prog played in an unoriginal manner, much like ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’, this will likely be a favourite. However, for the more discerning fan who’d like at least the pretence of a new idea or three, this will just come across as wholly unimaginative and rather flaccid. Yawn.

May 2016