KERRANG! ISSUE 79 October 1984
AIRRACE: “Shaft Of Light” (Atco 90219-1)
ALTHOUGH AIRRACE have been in official existence for over 18 months (two years if you count the abortive Phil Lewis liaison), they’ve been playing their cards extremely close to their collective chests, perfecting and polishing a sound that has almost unprecedented potential.
‘Shaft Of Light’ is almost certainly the classiest slice of vinyl released so far this year and perhaps in the Eighties thus far. Authoritative yet firmly conventional, this album sets a standard of melodic intensity that is both frighteningly excessive yet warmly inviting.
Conisting of five members (including guitarist Laurie Mansworth, who saw a smattering of action with More, and drummer Jason Bonham, whose father I needn’t mention), Airrace provide an accessible, multi-layered sound bathed in dense melodic harmonies strengthened by tight, uncluttered delicacy. Interested? If so, read on. If not, then, at the very least, I can only say that you ought to be shot. This album is that good.
Side One: keyed into the pompous overblown memories of the glorious and much-missed Touch and (for kollectors) Roadmaster, the commitment displayed is staggeringly similar. Surrounded by a whirlwind of marvellous pomp and circumstance (that’s Toby Sadler’s flexible keyboard manipulations), ‘I Don’t Care’ kick-starts the LP with cotton-wool sensitivity. Punctuated, regularly and with precision, by a chorus of warmth and distinguished magnificence delivered, of course, by the superb Keith Murrell (similar, and try not to laugh, in some respects to Cliff Richard), the song is a almost perfect example of unquestionable excellence.
‘Promise To Call’ follows hot on the latter’s syndrum finale but switches the light breezy freeway cruisin’ to a strict lowdown pumping rock tempo padded by Mansworth’s spluttering axe work. But it’s Bonham who wins on this one. Technically rigid, he smashes that fine division between violence and restraint with a tempered snare beat that threatens deliberance yet retains human identity. The comparison, although I really didn’t want to mention this, is totally valid.
‘First One Over The Line’, spacey with crystal clear vocals, ‘Open Your Eyes’, steady but disfigured with divergent counter melody, and the heavy efficiency of ‘Not Really Me’ close the side with a direction end tension that hasn’t been seen since prime period Styx.
Side Two: probably more consistent but subject to fewer arresting hooklines (only marginally, I might add). ‘Brief Encounter’ is, in my humble opinion, the weakest track on offer. Engulfed by surrogate electric (Fairlight) strings, the song is far too loose and motionless (due to the lack of hooks) to establish a firm foothold. Sure it’s grandiose, but that’s where it falls flat; it’s simply too involved.
‘Caught In The Game’ and ‘Didn’t Wanna Lose Ya’ redeem matters, however, with confident ease. Both are constructed on Jim Reid’s firm bass and showcase the gorgeous interweaving harmonics of the instruments matched against the vocals. It’s here that Murrell takes full honours. Leaping and soaring like an eagle in full flight his voice carries the melody and buries it deep into the brain; established and never to be forgotten.
The classiest cuts on this side are without doubt ‘Do You Want My Love Again’, brilliantly American in nature and pulsating with speedy ferociousness, and the toe-tapping infectiousness of ‘All I’m Asking’. Indeed, produced by the superior Beau Hill (probably the fastest rising production giant of the decade), ‘Shaft Of Light’ is an awesome and technically brilliant first achievement.
But an accomplishment of this nature does pose major problems. Airrace are now faced with the daunting prospect of having to recreate this masterpiece in a live setting, Anything less than an accurate reproduction will serve only to discredit them and the album.
I just hope they realise what they’ve let themselves in for.