For every band, that career-defining record is so near, and yet so far. On the release of Airbag’s 2013 album The Greatest Show On Earth, this very publication said that it was a “confident step in the right direction”, and “album number four really could be the big one”. Three years on that follow-up is here, and with Disconnected there’s no questioning the size of the Oslo five-piece’s sound. They’ve further proved their way with huge, expansive sonic vistas, through six songs that are often irresistibly, comfortingly widescreen in their aesthetics and melodic sweep.
Like a parent hearing a crying child, you’re instinctively drawn towards the yearning, melancholic minor chords of
the opening track Killer, but lean in closer and you don’t feel quite so sympathetic: ‘I’m only here for the ride, here for the fun,’ sings frontman Asle Tostrup, ‘and I’ll kill if I must, whatever it takes to stay on top.’ Two verses and two choruses in, the song soars off into the Stratocastersphere for the next five minutes, punctuated by tickles of echoey, U2-ish guitar effects.
Songs that are widescreen in melodic sweep.
Broken’s softly strummed acoustic chords and Waters-style resignation inevitably echo Pink Floyd, while Slave’s redolence to Radiohead is probably no accident, given that this band shares its name with a track from OK Computer.
A similar opened vein of ennui and desolation is mined when the title track yearns: ‘Dead inside, I’m checking out,
I disconnect,’ before we’re off for another guitar-borne swoop and soar across the sumptuous soundscape Airbag
so comfortably inhabit. Yet once again, you’re left stirred but not quite as shaken as you half-expect to be. The view is always agreeable, occasionally stunning, and you could gladly close your eyes and float away on the impressive wingspan of their sound. But after three or four listens, when you’re still not quite sure which song from this record you’re listening to, you realise it’s often a little too drifting and head-in-the-clouds to capture our imagination as well as it might.
Tostrup’s voice is emotive and Bjorn Riis’ guitar lines are fluid and uplifting, but to these ears, they lack that extra distinctive, charismatic edge that separates the good bands from the great.
Disconnected is another fine record from a band who have mastered the art of epic rock. Now they need to find a little something to really set them apart from the crowd of generic stadium rockers. A little more drama; a little more unpredictability. As it stands, Disconnected will undoubtedly please the majority of Airbag fans but contains, to quote Mr Yorke, no alarms and no surprises.