After the release of Airbag’s 3rd album, Greatest Show on Earth, Prog Magazine wrote that it was 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.” I’m here to tell you that album number four is the big one. The album is called Disconnected, and it blends sounds the are reminiscent of Anathema, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and a soupcon of U2, without sounding derivative of any of those bands. In short, it’s a keeper.
Airbag is based in Oslo, Norway and is made up of Anders Hovdan (bass), Asle Tostrup (vocals/guitar), Bjørn Riis (lead guitars), Jørgen Hagen (keys) and Henrik Fossum (drums). On Disconnected, as one might expect, they explore themes of alienation between individual and society, but the theme does not come across as heavy-handed or melodramatic, each song standing alone is complete expressions, without seeming forced to fit into a particular lyrical theme.
The opening track, “Killer,” starts out at a medium rock tempo with electronic sounds providing the backdrop to a trebly/echo-y (those are the technical terms) guitar that is rather reminiscent of the sound made popular by U2’s The Edge. The vocals are done by the 4:30 mark of this 9-minute tune, and the band build on the song’s musical themes until the song takes a dramatic turn at 7:30, that shifts from mid-tempo rock to a slower and much more dramatic section that makes any hints from U2’s sound fade away, and hints at things to come.
Whenever I listen to the second track, “Broken,” I’m sure it’s my favorite track on the album (but then other songs happen), it opens up with acoustic guitar and a very Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree melody and lyric, “Hold me tight, don’t look away. Ask me how I feel or how I make it through the day”. Arpeggiated electric guitar and synth strings are added as a bridge to the second verse which gradually builds effectively increasing the emotional impact of the song to a refrain: “If I could change again, would you leave me anyway?” This is followed by suddenly pulling everything back once again in a moment that gives chills to this listener. The outro is very David Gilmour and quite nicely executed.
“Slave” moves into Anathema territory: slow tempo, dramatic chorus backed, emotive vocals, etc. before “Sleepwalker” picks up the tempo, although still slightly below the Tom Petty Window (My theory is that medium rock tempo is between 116 and 126 bpm. My further theory is that every Tom Petty song fits into this range). It presents an acoustic guitar backed by subtle synth work and supporting a pleasantly melodic vocal line. The dramatic rise in the chorus flows naturally, but it’s the musical interlude after the second chorus that really displays the comfort Airbag has in their own skin. The let the track decrescendo back to the volume at which the song begun, add a nice little piano loop and just let the song take a nice breath before Bjørn Riis gets his Gilmour on again, with a melodic solo filled with slow bends. It’s a wonderful thing.
The albums longest track is “Disconnected,” at a meaty 13 minutes and 10 seconds. As one would expect, the song doesn’t rush itself, beginning with atmospheric keyboards, adding drums and bass and then vocals. The melody and lyric nod again in the direction of Porcupine Tree, but Airbag don’t make the mistake of completely following a PT approach through the chorus, which I feared they might upon my first listening. Later PT albums are rather fond of featuring a song or two that present slow build until they eventually come to a heavy metal intensity before either suddenly dropping to very minimalist final section, or just maintaining the bombast through the end. “Disconnected” starts on this same trajectory, but where PT would have just gone all out metal, Airbag hit a couple heavy chords and then suddenly changes directions, and going a different, but completely appropriate path, eventually reminding this listener of “Dogs” by Pink Floyd.
The album’s longest track is followed by its shortest. “Returned” is still over 5 minutes, but compared to the ambition of the rest of the songs, it is a lovely and welcome digestif with which to end the album. The song is truly lovely, melodically and lyrically. Particularly when one notes the album’s overall theme of our being disconnected from one another, ending the album with these lyrics (which recall the lyric of Track 2-Broken), is enough to make one rather emotional: “Please pick me up and keep me safe in your arms. I’ve been down for too long with no ground beneath my feet. I miss the things you do and the sounds you used to make. Now my heart is wide open and I’ll find my way back to you.” Ending this rather somber album with a hopeful and lovely song is truly an artist’s touch.
Bravo, Airbag, this is an album that merits a place in my regular rotation.