The Airborne Toxic Event - All At Once
No one can do angst-rock quite like Airborne Toxic Event. Sometimes glorious, sometimes a little off-putting, yet always interesting. Second album All At Once has moments of real beauty, with Mikel Jollett's powerful voice reaching stellar heights while the music envelops him, powering him along. Opening song 'All At Once' is a classic example of the sort of jaw-dropping orchestral epics this band can produce; a slowly-building steam that soon erupts into full-blown grandeur. After this impressive start the album has a lot to live up to. And it does, mostly.
'Numb' follows, catchy and infectious, layers of voices and instruments give it a lushness that will bury the listener - Jollett's understated vocals are juxtaposed nicely with the exuberant music. And the playful melody of 'Changing' belies the bitter and resentful lyrics: "You were just always talking about changing, changing / What if I was the same man, the same I always was."
But the album is split between upbeat, power-house rockers that get your blood pumping and low-key numbers which seem to work less well. Without the triumphant music charging behind, Jollett's mournful drudgery becomes a bit too self-indulgent. 'All For Woman' never really picks up speed and despite the band coming in at the end like a weary cavalry, the song is uninspiring and rather dull. The cheerily titled 'The Kids Are Ready To Die' is too much beer-soaked naval-gazing, like very bad Bruce Springsteen. Fortunately, things pick up with the wonderful 'Welcome to Your Wedding Day' ("You can dance on the graves and the bones of the children if you know what to say.") while the beautiful 'Half Of Something Else' and 'Strange Girl' round off the album nicely.
Airborne Toxic Event are at their best when they fire off all their guns. Mopey songs just don't suit them. Jollet crooning on his acoustic guitar like an out of work wedding singer, as with 'The Graveyard Near The House', exposes his rather OTT lyrics without the benefit of the OTT arrangements giving them some sort of credibility: 'The other day when we were walking by the graveyard near the house / You asked me if we would ever die." You can't have one without the other. Without the grandiose music behind him he just sounds silly, but put them together and you have soul-inspiring, fist-pounding, celebratory rock and roll.