Airbag’s second album, 2011’s All Rights Removed was a strong enough piece of work, its blend of complex arrangements and tuneful delivery ensuring it regular spins on the Prog stereo. And yet it seemed to come and go in flash, and was swiftly forgotten. Were the same fate to befall this follow-up, we’d be doing everyone a disservice.
The Greatest Show On Earth has already been described on the Prog website as being ‘deeper and darker’ than previous works, it’s interesting to note that the press release suggests fans of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Talk Talk and Anathema will find much to savour therein. Bold talk indeed, but while there are certainly sounds on the album to bring these bands to mind, this Norwegian band mostly sound like their own outfit here, and not some prog-by-numbers cabaret act.
That said, Bjorn Riis’ guitar tone does bear a stylistic similarity with a certain Mr Gilmour, and the chords used in the closing epic Surveillance (Parts 2-3) brings to mind the decreasing refrains Pink Floyd would use on something like Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The Greatest Show On Earth does not sound like a Floyd rip-off, however.
Bookended by the that three-parter, Surveillance, it opens in stridently up-tempo mode, an almost short sharp shock in comparison to the rest of the material on offer, not least the 16-plus minutes of the second and third parts closing the record. It’s a strong statement, which pays off due in large part to the band’s sheer daring, their scope of vision. Of the smaller tracks, the angular Redemption brings to mind some of Porcupine Tree’s more recent material, with a vocal performance that echoes Steven Wilson’s sense of detachment.
Silence Grows is a song that evolves as its title implies, building slowly up towards a crescendo of cascading guitars that really is quite thrilling. Best of all, however, is the title track itself, a swirling maelstrom of everything the band have tried to achieve on The Greatest Show On Earth, compacted down into just a fraction over seven minutes. Never more than on this cut do the band sound like one taking that emboldened stride into previously uncharted territories, and it makes for scintillating listening.
So, while not everything on The Greatest Show On Earth hits the bullseye as accurately as the title track, there’s nothing on show that suggests that by having such unashamed ambition, Airbag are in any way over-reaching. Indeed, it’s a confident step in the right direction, so much so you’re led to believe that album number four really could be the big one.