Off the Cuff: Dublin, The Way Home, Hell and Back

Posted: September 14, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
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The Airborne Toxic Event, Such Hot Blood Deluxe European EditionBy Glen

The wait is finally over for fans of The Airborne Toxic Event across the pond – well, those in mainland Europe, anyway (UKers still have a couple more weeks to wait). Such Hot Blood has finally landed, and with it, a pair of new bonus tracks.

Meanwhile, at the very same time that was happening, the band was stirring things up stateside with a surprise new song that strays far from the typical Airborne script (to the extent that such a thing has ever existed).

Here’s an off the cuff review of all three new TATE tracks: Dublin, The Way Home and Hell and Back. These are very much first impressions, formed while listening to the songs back-to-back, six times in a row on crappy car speakers – and, in the case of the latter, with only a recorded radio version at my disposal.

Dublin

Many of my favorite albums by other artists clearly and cleverly invoke a palpable sense of place: think U2’s The Joshua Tree (middle America), Achtung Baby and Zooropa (post-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall Europe), or Springsteen’s early work (Jersey shore) and The Rising (post 9/11 New York).

With Dublin, Airborne manages a similar feat. The song isn’t just about Dublin; it oozes Dublin. I’ve only visited Ireland in my imagination (and as a lifelong hardcore U2 fan, I’ve imagined it a lot), but if my impressions of the country could be set to music, this would be the music. It just sounds like Ireland to me, a slight Irish lilt even detectable in some of Mikel’s phrasing.

With all due respect to A Letter to Georgia and Duet, Dublin may be the band’s most delicate song to date, the sparse arrangement allowing the singer’s voice to captivate all the more. Instrumentation only takes over for a brief moment, a shimmering guitar reminiscent of the solo on All for a Woman, before the story resumes. And what a story it is, with lyrics that rival The Graveyard Near the House in quality.

Thematically, it is a search for home – a theme that will carry over to the subsequent song. Whether it’s “the young men who longed for these shores in a song,” or the girl who “wants one too with someone heart as true as this prison made of stone,” everyone just wants to come home.

Dublin was the most familiar of the three songs before this week’s release, having been performed at several orchestra shows this summer (see the world premiere). But no crowd-shot YouTube video can do justice to the simple beauty of this fine addition to the TATE catalog.

The Way Home

Mikel has said that he originally envisioned Album 3 as more of a folk album, full of stomps, claps and whistles, and that only Bride and Groom and True Love really captured the ethos he had in mind. Now, you can add The Way Home to that list, as it fits right in with the feel of those two songs – particularly the former.

Musically, the song feels like a journey. Close your eyes as you listen, and you can imagine the narrator setting out, knowing not where he’s going, only that he has to leave. Again, it’s a search for home.

The truth is I’m not brave or sure, I just know I can’t live like this no more.
I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for, I just know I can’t live like this no more.

And I don’t know if this road will end at your door, I just know I can’t live like this no more.
I don’t even know what I’m heading for, I just know I can’t live like this no more.
I just know I can’t live like this no more.

Of the three new tracks, this is the immediate stand-out for me, and it’s because of Mikel’s vocal performance. In fact, after just a handful of listens, it’s already one of my favorite vocals of all time. Croaking out, “But I don’t know if there’s a God at all,” and then desperately wailing the final few lines, the singer pushes his voice into territory that hasn’t been heard since Half of Something Else (“The way that you screamed, the way that you cried…”).

Overall, The Way Home seems a perfect fit with Such Hot Blood, and in fact it’s a shame that it was left off the original release. But better late than never!

Hell and Back

If the previous song was an apt continuation of the most recent album, the next one could not be more of a departure.

Hell and Back is a grand surprise in every sense – not only because no one saw this release coming until it was announced just a few days ago, but because the band has taken everything we’ve come to expect of them, crumpled it up and chucked it out the door. Quite simply, it’s unlike anything else they’ve ever done; indeed, were it not for Mikel’s unmistakable voice, it would be unrecognizable as The Airborne Toxic Event.

Combining country stomp, electronic flourishes, synthesizers, the occasional trip hop beat and slight vocal distortion (unless that’s just the less-than-stellar recording quality I’m hearing), Hell and Back rocks harder than anything on Such Hot Blood. It’s un-Airborne-like “Na na na” refrain is built for radio – and for arenas.

Lyrically, the narrator laments his inability to break free of a relationship that’s taken him to hell and back, despite frequent attempts to walk away and leave it behind. “My mind’s like a one way track, and every one is taking me back to you. You tell me ‘just one more time’ and you lie like you always do.” He wants to leave, knows he should leave, keeps trying to leave… and keeps getting sucked back in by promises that it will be different this time.

If there was any doubt, Hell and Back establishes that TATE is not a band to rest on formula, and hints at further evolution to come. Where it leads is anyone’s guess, but it’s sure to be a fun ride.

Final Thoughts

As a TATE fan, yesterday was like Christmas in September. I woke up, and I had 30% of a new album to enjoy… and enjoy it I did!

Taking off my fan hat and putting on my marketing hat (since that’s what I do when I’m not blogging about The Airborne Toxic Event), I do find the timing of Hell and Back a little curious. That it dropped just a day after the long-awaited European release of Such Hot Blood seems somewhat unusual. In fact, in the frenzy over Hell and Back (well deserved as it is), it seems that many fans have scarcely noticed that two other equally brilliant tracks have also just been released. Of course, the fact that North American fans have to jump through complicated hoops to hear or purchase Dublin and The Way Home doesn’t help, but it just feels like these two tunes are not getting the attention they deserve. Perhaps they will step out of the shadows once they are released in the UK.

It’s also interesting that the band would release a new, non-album song so soon after the album, and with only one single having been released from Such Hot Blood. One might’ve expected that the next step would’ve been to release a follow-up to Timeless: perhaps The Storm, though I’d have loved for it to be Safe. Having said that, Hell and Back is undeniably catchy and radio-friendly, probably moreso than anything on the album, so perhaps the feeling is that it ultimately has a better chance of cracking the mainstream and thus drawing more attention to the album, despite not being included on it. And if that’s what it takes for the band to achieve the acclaim it so richly deserves, this fan is all for it.

Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. […] Off the Cuff: Dublin, The Way Home, Hell and Back […]

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  2. […] Off the Cuff: Dublin, The Way Home, Hell and Back […]

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  3. […] slightly tinny (but much appreciated and highly circulated) radio recording of surprise TATE single Hell and Back, while wondering when the tune would be available for […]

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  4. […] From the moment I first laid ears on “The Way Home,” a gorgeous bonus track on the European release of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Such Hot Blood, my overriding impression was that of a journey. […]

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  5. […] the moment I first laid ears on “The Way Home,” a gorgeous bonus track on the European release of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Such Hot Blood, […]

    Like

  6. […] Continuing in our tradition of quick, off the cuff reviews of new music by The Airborne Toxic Event, here are some quick thoughts after the world premiere of “Wrong,” the first single from TATE’s fourth album, scheduled for an early 2015 release. The track debuted today on Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5. […]

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