It’s a token benchmark for critics and fans alike to pick apart a new release, chew the contents and spit out the jilted remains in some kind of flagging accusatory such as ‘SELLOUT!’, ‘COMMERCIAL BULLSHIT!’ or the archetypal ‘I-liked-the-old-stuff-better’. Linger too long in nostalgia and your tunes will be deemed bland and banal. Venture out on new terms, and your authenticity as an artist will be questioned. You just can’t win.
Abandoning his dreadlocks and leaving behind the finger-pickin’ days of Sunrise Over Sea, John Butler returns with a little less hair, a new band and a very different insight on his third album, April Uprising. Independently released through MGM and Jarrah Records, it has already cemented it’s place debuting at no. 1 on this weeks’ ARIA chart. Dextrous, staccato plucking and those grooving bass lines that we’ve come to define the John Butler Trio by are not totally lost, but do seem to shadow the punchy riffs and gutsy hooks which make up the crux of this record.
To quickly dismiss that JB has totally dredged his ways for the shiny lights of commercial realm on his new record is an ignorant claim. Anti-capitalist leanings, respect for the land and individual plights are still dredged up, while tracks like ‘To Look Like You’ poke references to body image. Although this record lacks a lot of that funk/reggae flavour we became familiar with on Sunrise Over Sea, the skills of new recruits Nicky Bomba (drums) and Byron Luiters (bass) pitch in a more tempered, earthly feel. And to our favourite politician with a tragic tracksuit fetish, ‘Johnny’s Gone’ is a poetic middle finger. The great thing about JB is his ability to deliver a political message without shrouding it in a veil of lyrical pretense down your throat.
‘Revolution’ is an an incredibly stirring opener, a pointer to the historical event linked to JB’s Bulgarian hertiage. There’s a depth in the way JB articulates phrases in quiet moments of song, which lends dynamic to reflective moments and credibility to the issues explored. With buoyant hooks, a confident backing beat and a few twitching keys in the background, ‘C’mon Now’ is essentially Ben Lee on crack cocaine or a tune that would compliment an Omo commercial. With an open fist in the soil, ‘Ragged Mile’ frames pacing, tribal drumming against galloping blues-folk riffs, harmonies swaying back and forth and gradually ascending to a brilliant atmospheric peak. ‘Mystery Man’ has deconstructed remnants of standout ballads from Grand National like ‘Losing You’. A melancholic sort of scene popped into my head, an elderly couple waltzing in an empty country dancehall and reliving their youth.
‘Close To You’ is an prime instance of where the trio is exactly on par with their new direction. With that driving riff and cowbell that courts your ears into the chorus, it’s incredibly difficult not to catch on. I can’t decide whether the speedy lyrical swagger of ‘Don’t Wanna See Your Face‘ packs character or is just plain irritating. There’s no doubt it has airplay potential, but also potential to be the song you curse for rotating in your head at 8am on a Monday morning or the track that won’t go away no matter how many times you change the FM dial.
Props also go out to the design of this album. Theres nothing that quite satisfies like the experience of peeling back the covers of a soft digipack (100%recycled paper mind you) and discovering a shiny lyrics booklet in LEGIBLE font. Amen.
April Uprising isn’t as strong as it’s predecessor, Grand National, but let’s not forget that music is in a constant state of flux; shifting, evolving and re-inventing itself. John Butler refuses to rest on his laurels, and kudos to him for that. If artists penetrating the ‘commercial’ market are opening the eyes of the general consensus to more important issues, rather than teaching our nine year olds to grind up on prison poles, don tragic leotards as an excuse for clothing and wear coke cans parading as hair accessories, then fuck, all the better for it.
John Butler talks more about the history of April Uprising here : http://www.vimeo.com/10553523