CD Review of Runnin’ Wild by Airbourne
Recommended if you like
AC/DC, Buckcherry, The Cult
Label
Roadrunner Records
Airbourne: Runnin’ Wild

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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T
o say Sam Phillips’ career path has followed a tangled trajectory would be something of an understatement. After all, here’s an artist whose work can be divided into two distinct realms: Her first phase, which occurred when she went by her given name Leslie and embarked on her course as a Christian singer/songwriter, and the second chapter, which started when she adopted her schoolgirl nickname Sam, unaware that it was also the name of a far more famous musical icon, producer Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. Undeterred, she turned her back on her earlier endeavors, even going so far as to denounce her former label as a tool of a supposed right-wing conspiracy. Phillips then signed to Virgin Records, where she released a series of perky pop masterpieces from the late ‘80s throughout most of the ‘90s, all of them overseen by artist, producer and soon-to-be-husband T Bone Burnett.

By the turn of the millennium, Phillips was changing directions once again, abandoning her pop persona in favor of a quieter, more pensive perspective and signing to Nonesuch, a label known for more adult-oriented artists. Don’t Do Anything, her first new record in four years and first to find her in the role of producer, is as down-turned as anything she’s ever done – her Christian music included – even to the point where it forces its listeners to turn up the volume knob so it’s audible enough to be heard. Phillips’ hushed vocals hint at a troubled mindset, manifest in melancholic songs preoccupied with quiet contemplation. “I thought if he understood he wouldn’t treat me this way,” she murmurs in the aching opening track, “No Explanations.” Later, in “Watching out of This World,” she closes out the collection by complaining, “You lost me with your double-time edge.” That seems to make sense; while her tempos tend to percolate and sway with a gypsy-like lilt, the tepid arrangements and meditative musings mostly put a damper on her delivery.

Consequently, it’s clear that opting to produce herself wasn’t Phillips’ best move. As introspective an album as this is, Phillips would have been better advised to heed the advice of the title and let an outside producer – if not Burnett, perhaps Daniel Lanois – lend an objective touch and tweak her hazy atmospheric designs. “Imagine no one noticing you, seeing what they can’t see,” she sighs in the opening lines of “Flowers Up.” If indeed that’s the case here, Phillips has only herself to blame.

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