Australian bands don’t have much luck when it comes to making an impression overseas. Had John Butler emerged from America or the UK, Brits would almost certainly heard more about him by now. As it is, despite making inroads in America, indeed despite being half-American, he’s a respected artist in his homeland and something of a footnote elsewhere.
April Uprising is Butler’s fifth album, and his first with a new look trio. Shannon Birchall and Michael Barker, who graced 2007′s Grand National album, have been replaced with drummer Nicky Bomba and bassist Byron Luiters. There’s a new direction too as Butler has plumped for a more commercial sound compared with his previous albums. It could be a move that finally sees him gain international recognition.
The album opens with Revolution, a moody acoustic plod with Butler adding an uneasy high-register croon. Eventually it opens up with an irresistibly catchy chorus and Butler spitting out lyrics about pride, fire, and flames. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a song entitled Revolution, and Butler starts as he means to go on.
One Way Road finds Butler asserting his socially-conscious political side. Despite having a riff that cross-pollinates Wild Thing and Hanson‘s MMMBop, Butler’s guitar style and some nice funk bass flourishes save the song from being entirely throwaway. Drive time, feel good tune it might be, but it is phenomenally catchy with a hook that digs in and just won’t let go. That the song is a rant about the power of governments and big business might be a clich�d touch, but the meaning quickly gets lost in Butler’s frantic scatter-shot delivery. It’s no surprise that One Way Road is the first single to be taken from the album.
C’Mon Now is every bit as up-tempo as its title suggests. Calypso steel drums hammer out a feel good pulse as Butler unleashes a few slick guitar licks and a chorus that is designed for drunken chanting at festivals. Don’t Want To See Your Face continues the band’s drive for accessibility, Butler’s guitar work darting from funk, to blues, to rock ‘n’ roll and back to funk again. Naturally there’s another stupidly infectious chorus on hand to ensure that there’s a pop edge in there.
Ragged Mile showcases the Trio’s more serious side, and explores the sinister blues sound that Creedence Clearwater Revival was so good at. As Butler’s cracked vocals howl, the band hurtles into a dark cathartic chorus. It’s thrilling stuff.
Butler’s not inconsiderable guitar prowess gets an outing of Mystery Man, which is good news for old fans as it is sadly lacking elsewhere on the album. If it stumbles towards David Gray territory, then Butler at least makes up for it with some smart guitar work.
A Star Is Born, a song written for Butler’s son, completes the album in considerable style. The hushed vocals, glorious slide guitar and some delicate cymbals that sound like the waves rolling on to a perfect beach, make for an emotionally charged conclusion.
The commercial nature of much of the album might upset a few of Butler’s old fans, and raise a few sneers elsewhere, but April Uprising is crammed with undeniably great pop songs and enough inventiveness to suggest that John Butler’s own star is finally rising.