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Airbourne: Black Dog Barking

Album Review

AC/DC-alikes move towards Def Leppard and smell big-time success just around the corner.

Airbourne have been talking about Mutt Lange in interviews a lot recently. Specifically, the hyper-successful records the reclusive producer has made over the years. In fairness, there are worse people to name-check. Forget Rick Rubin or Ethan Johns or any of those Johnny-come-lately producers with the supposed Midas touch; if there’s one person you go to for a solid-gold – actually, make that solid-platinum – sound then it’s Lange. Just ask AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner, The Cars or any other superannuated musicians currently sipping cocktails around a kidney-shaped swimming pool that’s been paid for by a Mutt Lange production.

It’s testament to Airbourne’s balls, or possibly their stupidity, that they’ve tried to make a Mutt Lange record without Mutt Lange. With Black Dog Barking – already in the running for one of the year’s worst album titles – the Australian four-piece have expanded their range of influences beyond belief. They don’t just sound like AC/DC any more, now they sound like Def Leppard too. The result is both shamelessly derivative and gloriously entertaining. 

Ready To Rock, Hungry and Firepower are low-concept anthems that come roaring in on battered old Harleys, leaving a trail of diamond-edged riffs that either of those bands could have served up at any point between 1979 and 1983. And if Joel O’Keeffe’s vocals on the heroically sleazy No One Fits Me (Better Than You) sit somewhere between Bon Scott’s lascivious sneer and Brian Johnson’s strangulated wheeze, then the stacked harmonies of Back In The Games recall prime 80s Leppard. 

Christ, there’s even a song called Animalize. All they need to do is get their drummer to hack off his arm and they’ll have ticked all the boxes. 

But all this boisterousness isn’t surprising. What is surprising is how huge it all sounds. For a band who look like they’ve spent most of their adult lives necking cheap lager and Taytos crisps in the corner of Warrnambool’s equivalent of the Dog And Duck, Black Dog Barking sets its sights high: they’ve studied what works, and what doesn’t, and only gone and applied it to themselves. Maybe they’re not so stupid after all. 

This isn’t Airbourne’s Hysteria or Back In Black. It’s not even their Pyromania or Highway To Hell. But it might just be their High ’N’ Dry – a proper swing for the fences that, with the wind behind it, could propel ’em out of the little leagues and into the big time. If they can just get hold of Lange’s number next time they’ll be laughing.

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