Billy Talent

Afraid of Heights

Written by: HES on 20/12/2016 18:11:46

Swapping Billy Talent mp3-files on MSN Messenger some 10+ years ago I didn't imagine either the band surviving for this long nor my interest for them. As for the latter part, it is being tested by the Canadians' genuine talent for writing ten new versions of the same song. It was actually befitting that the band up until their second to last release merely called their albums "Billy Talent 1, 2, 3…" However, Billy Talent has one thing very much going for them: They are masters of the live show, generally delivering an energetic and intimate experience - primarily through the rock solid performance by vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz with one of the most characteristic voices of modern rock. So you kind of want to keep up with the material to ensure enjoyment at future shows. But this time it becomes more of an obligation than an experience. So usually I would start with describing either positive or negative features of an album, but I would rather structure this review in three main accusations, and then at the end review whether or not those accusations hold bearing:

I accuse Billy Talent of being irrelevant - or let's put it this way: I accuse the band of reaching an age where they start feeling the pressure of being relevant and thus like a self-fulfilling prophecy creating something that is horribly irrelevant. May I present to the court evidence 1: "Louder Than The DJ" - almost an exact replica of the Green Day abomination "Kill The DJ", the track puts the band squarely in the outdated angry-dad-segment as Kowalewicz sings about the horrible "selfie-generation" not realizing, that their audience is comprised of the very first selfie-generation: The Myspace-generation. The "political" statement of the song becomes just as void by its danceable composition, essentially caving to the generation it supposedly is attacking. At the same time, the lyrics are hopelessly circling the same old drain with dad-statements like "Someone said a long time ago, rock and roll will never grow old" or even worse in the closing chorus: "Your momma's new car is louder than the DJ". That last joke was irrelevant already when the band released their first album. Supporting the outdated choices in sound is "Leave Them All Behind" that oddly enough continues in the same Green Day "American Idiot"-era sounding track.

I accuse Billy Talent of being repetitive. Already at the second run-through of the album you start feeling urges to skip songs that somehow already feel like a rock-version of "Get Lucky" poking the same bruised areas of your ear canals again and again. The worst offenders here are "Big Red Gun" that also struggles with an overly simplistic composition, the title track "Afraid of Heights" suffers from the same shortcomings albeit to a lesser extent. We are also struggling with some folk-inspired motifs that are so 1:1 copied that they simply sound either like a bad viking metal ballad ("Rabbit Down the Hole") or a sad "Knights of Cydonia"-styled gallop ("Horses & Chariots").

Lastly I accuse Billy Talent of being completely uninspiring: As mentioned in my first indictment, the band aspires to strike a political tone with this release. However, there's nothing heroic about beating the same old dead horse. The band proudly concludes that "Once there was a nation here, now there is no more. Once we fought for change arm in arm, but now this is our war". And what nation are we exactly talking about here? To my knowledge, Canada just elected one of their most progressive Prime Ministers ever. In case they're talking of the US-situation, I think Kanye West is calling to tell us Green Day made the best critique of the American redneck division in 2005. Another route the band tries to take is trying to be personable through the figurative description of perhaps drug abuse in "Rabbit Down The Hole", but the lyrics come off as flat: "Everyone that I hold dearly, I try to keep them close - 'cause some of them get bitten by the rabbit down the hole".

But in the defence of the band, I suppose you could mention that the band still knows how to put a pretty decent riff together - that they're generally energetic. It speaks to their character, but really doesn't change the verdict: Billy Talent is out of the three main accusations becoming an uninspiring band with very few offerings that their audience can't get elsewhere - probably apart from Kowalewicz' distinct vocals. I am not certain that "Afraid of Heights" is their worst album to date, but because of the constant repetition, they will never be able to re-create a moment like the "Red Flag"-moment of 2005. And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, makes Billy Talent completely irrelevant.


Download: The Crutch, Horses & Chariots
For The Fans Of: Rise Against, Muse, Green Day

Release date 29.07.2016
Warner Music

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