Artist: Billy Talent
Album: Afraid of Heights
Label: Warner Music Canada
Release Date: 07/29/2016
Rock and roll ain’t what it used to be.
I know I sound like a crusty 60 year-old AC/DC fan with a dirty beard and a 2-pack-a-day smoking habit when I say that, but all one has to do is look at its 70 year history to see that rock is on a downward slide. It might be a very slow one filled with moments of brilliant awesomeness, but downward nonetheless. We’ll never get back the glory of the ‘70s and ’90s, but it’s kinda nice to see bands like Billy Talent trying.
Afraid of Heights has passion, energy and cohesion in spades, which about makes up for its lack of consistency and lyrical ineptitude. After three eponymous albums (the 3rd of which had heavyweight rock producer Brendan O’Brien at the helm) and 2012’s Dead Silence, they’re now almost two decades old as a band. Admirably, the age lines don’t show, and they retain the defiant attitude and cultural sensitivity of true rock and punk warriors. They know how to make you believe in the best and despair at the worst.
Featured front and center on Afraid of Heights is a slick, streamlined production style and radio-ready riffs and vocal hooks. Lead single “Afraid of Heights” strikes all the right notes, as does opener “Big Red Gun.” Energetic and loaded with forward motion, these two songs are Billy Talent at their best. On the other side of the coin, “Rabbit Down the Hole” proves that the band can be contemplative without tipping over into sentimentality or compromising their heavy sound.
But alas, generalized political pep rally speeches like “Time Bomb Ticking Away” and “This is Our War” drag Afraid of Heights down, but not as much as the sometimes befuddling lyrics. “Louder Than the DJ” repeats the words in the title ad nauseum, and “The Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats” (yes, that’s actually the song’s title) relies on 7th-grade metaphors to get its message across – and I’m still not sure what that message is.
Still, Billy Talent has shown guts and fortitude in the past. More than that, they have staying power. Conquering the Canadian charts might be easier than the American equivalent, but you can’t deny Billy Talent’s appeal. They’re no AC/DC, but who is, am I right?
– Neal Paradise