Album Review: Airline, Farewell Republica

[from MadeLoud, August 25, 2008]

For all the slings and arrows shot at 1970s pop and rock – not metal, not disco, not AM lite rock but actual straight-ahead pop and rock – it’s funny to see how well the supposedly lame relics of the era have survived. People like to talk about how The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones changed so many lives, but the facts don’t lie: Billy Joel, Rickie Lee Jones and Elton John are still around and kicking while their supposedly more credible punk and art-rock brethren have long since disappeared for one reason or another. If ever an argument need be made about which of popular appeal and critical acclaim carry more weight, the decade as a whole may end the discussion forever.

Not a throwback band per se – and don’t dare call them that – Dallas, TX-based Airline’s debut album Farewell Republica is at once a full amalgamation of so much of this strangely timeless music but somehow not anything exactly like any of the bands they so obviously borrow from. Hints of everything from David Bowie to James Taylor to Pink Floyd to Harvest-era Neil Young pepper the disc, yet the album never comes off as anything rehashed or recycled. Part of this may be the result of its scant 38-minute running time, but most of it stems from Republica’s adherence to those mighty and timeless principles that make any music great: tightly-crafted songs, lean arrangements and knowing when it’s time to go full-bore.

With its sometimes bizarre arrangements, almost indescribable melodies and vocalist/songwriter Rob Holley leading the way, it’s tempting to call this another take on the eccentric, schizo-pop format revived by the likes of Badly Drawn Boy (or the first two albums’ worth of Nelly Furtado). This would be a flawed statement, for starters because Airline are far more collaborative than any of those bizarre Damon Gough projects but more significantly because the expert touches at the console by Stuart Sikes actually put Farewell Republica closer to the work of a classic pop-leaning Brian Eno, be it the reverb-soaked melancholia of “Once in a Blue Moon” or staccato electric pianos that drive the particularly rocking and anthemic “Ulysses.” That’s not to say the songs are overtly weird – although some are, i.e. the drunken Beatles-esque dirge of “The Battle of Never Amount” – but Airline relies less upon blatant nonsense and more upon a continual sense of adventure, which is no small feat considering you could just as easily assume the album’s length and age were the same number.