One of the best and most interesting Englishmen I’ve never actually met in person, Richard Thresh, recommended I check out a Norwegian band, Airbag, about two summers ago. Richard’s views and recommendations are almost always (in fact, I can’t think of one with which I’ve disagreed) spot on. He cautioned me that a lot of prog folk in the U.K. have dismissed them as warmed-over Pink Floyd, but that I should still listen to them anyway.
I did. But, appearances first.
Their first album cover—the best in my opinion—could be the sequel to Talk Talk’s The Party’s Over. This has James Marsh written (illustrated!) all over it. A single bulbous blue eye cries a teardrop of blood. It is equally disturbing and artistically enticing.
Before even talking indepth about the music, let me add up a couple of things. A recommendation from Richard Thresh, a band from Norway, and a cover painting inspired by James Marsh. Three for three.
What about the music? Yes, they wear their Pink Floyd (mostly Gilmour) influences rather dramatically on their psychedelic sleeves. In fact, they do so really loudly. And, the cover of their most recent album, Greatest Show on Earth, has a very 1980s Floydish look. The guitarwork could be done by a student of Gilmour’s, and the organist possesses a rather Wrightish touch.
Comparing them to Floyd, though, isn’t enough. Not surprisingly, especially given the artwork of the first album, a rather strong air of Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene hangs over all in a thick entangled and shifting haze as well.
Some reviewers also have heard some A-ha in Airbag. Granted, each band begins with an A, and each is from Norway. Otherwise, I hear no similarities at all between the two. This, though, is quite possibly a limitation on my part, as I own all of Airbag’s music, while I’ve listened to only two of A-ha’s albums—each years ago.
Whatever influences these guy wear openly, they are their own band. The musicianship of Airbag is simply outstanding. For proof of this, listen to their two-track live album, Live in Oslo (2008). Holy smokes, this is great stuff. Though only 24 minutes long, Live in Oslo ranks, at least in my mind, as a live recording up there with Rush’s Exit Stage Left and Anathema’s Universal. These guys can really, really, really (I could keep going here) play.
It was listening to this short live album that convinced me of their excellence. The two songs sound almost conducted in the sense that Bruno Walter conducts the Viennese Philharmonic.
A point about the lyrics. I know absolutely nothing in any personal way about the musicians in Airbag. If they vote socialist or if they worship Freya—I have no idea.
But, I really (yes, multiply this word several times) like their lyrics. The lyrics are more Hollis than Floyd. And, that’s a good thing, as they reach a very poetic level. One could easily listen to the vocals merely as another instrument in the Airbag’s music–the singer is this good to be a standalone instrument—but one should really attempt to bring the lyrics and their meaning into he music. As just mentioned, they reach poetic levels, but they also deal very interestingly with what might be called, apolitically, libertarian themes. Meaning, they lyrics explore very nicely and intelligently the role of community, individuality, rights, artistry, creativity, and conformity.
My final word in this post. Don’t let the comparisons to Pink Floyd throw you off. Yes, the band is rather proudly and openly Floydian, but in terms of skill, musicianship, harmony, purpose, and lyricism, they reach toward great heights.
When your monthly budget allows you to purchase that next cd and you’re in the mood to try out a new band, don’t overlook these guys.
I almost did, but Richard Thresh prevented me from making this mistake. Start with the two-song live album. If you like it, purchase any or all of their three studio albums: Identity; All Rights Removed; and/or The Greatest Show on Earth. You won’t regret it. In fact, you might even need to send a thank you note to Richard.