Review by Jon Easton
This album marks a significant departure from Butler’s previous work. This is reflected in the trio’s line-up in that both the drummer and bassist have been replaced in what he calls an effort to discover new inspirations with new members and this shows. The change musically that was hinted at in his last outing, 2007’s Grand National, is even more radical here. Gone are the mellow 6 minute banjo songs of ere and instead we are presented with a whole lot more punch.
The album’s leading single, ‘One Way Road’, encapsulates this change. The lyrics are almost rapped by Butler and it’s a short, punchy, political track that will have your feet going as well as your social conscience. It would be fair to say that Butler’s songwriting ability (as well as his amazing musicality which is shockingly underplayed on this album) has brought him through the ranks to become one of Australia’s premier musicians.
Knowing that he has a larger reputation in Australia than anywhere else, this album hopes to tap into the culture of the Australian Aborigines that Butler does so much to try and bring greater awareness to. This is obvious by going to the extent of using a clip from the President of Long Grass Association representing Homeless Indigenous People in Darwin, June Mills at the beginning of the emotive track, ‘Johnny’s Gone’. The album’s opening track, ‘Revolution’, starts with pan flutes and has a general ethereal feel to get in touch with the country’s roots, however this is queerly fused with a much heavier sound than any John Butler album to date. Whether this odd concoction of traditional music with something a lot harder was intended, I’m not sure if it comes to anything more than something which is worryingly mainstream for Butler. He also, in a more mainstream turn, picks up the electric guitar as a predominant instrument for the first time.
The softer side to Butler’s music is missed with only the ultimate track, ‘A Star is Born’, being the only song on the album to sound remotely like the melancholy of much of 2004‘s Sunrise Over Sea. Some of the tracks on the album, namely ‘Mystery Man’ were just crying out to be a guitar and vocal track. Compared with his previous albums in this respect, April Uprising appears in places to be a little over-produced when put next to the simplistic settings of the previous albums.
It’s hard not to sound cynical when comparing this album to it’s predecessors, but it is clearly a whole different kettle of fish. I am by no means saying that this is a bad album, far from it. It is head and shoulders above most of the generic-indie rubbish out there at the moment. It is peculiar, however, that with an album where Butler is trying to reach out to the Aboriginal roots of Australia, he has produced an album that is more suited to a western audience than even he would like to admit.