It was these same fans who questioned the band’s jump from indie label Majordomo to behemoth Mercury in 2009. Would this mean the band would shun their rough-around-the-edges sound when they recorded new music, trading the raw energy of their debut album for industry polish? Maybe not completely. But it’s worth noting that trying to compare ‘All At Once’ to ‘The Airborne Toxic Event’ is like measuring up your globetrotting, world-weary uncle who’s seen it all to the delinquent yet charming nephew trying to get through his first year of uni.
First single ‘Changing’ starts up with an Oriental-style guitar hook that never would have appeared on their debut album. Relief should set in when the rest of the instruments kick in 20 seconds from the start. It’s not bad, just lyrically not a showstopper like ‘Sometime After Midnight’ or even half as energetic as the upbeat numbers on their first album. Same goes for ‘Half Of Something Else’ and ‘Strange Girl’. These are good, just not great.
‘It Doesn’t Mean A Thing’ sees The Airborne Toxic Event skirting country and folk lines, so much that you might find yourself double-checking your purchase to make sure you bought the right album. Underwhelming. The band take two stabs at political statements: the slow and very bare ‘The Kids Are Ready To Die’, with Jollett’s voice scratchy and not fluid at all, swiftly followed in the tracklisting with ‘Welcome To Your Wedding Day’, with the kind of unbecoming snarling that makes you imagine Alice Cooper was hanging around in the shadows as a collaborator. One can only guess these never confronted the Mercury sanding tool.
But you won’t scratch your head for long. Lead singer Mikel Jollett’s vocals on ‘Numb’ are mostly muted in the verses; normally, you’d think that would spell disaster for a rock song, but some reason it works in this context. ‘All For A Woman’ will undoubtedly become the band’s torch song and also soundtrack countless weddings to come for the beauty in simplicity.
Two of the songs on here - the title track and ‘All I Ever Wanted’ - feature their mates and recent acoustic tour partners the Calder Quartet. An infinitely smart move to include these, as they indicate the band’s maturity and ability to build more massive-sounding numbers. The Airborne Toxic Event deserve points for doing something different on this go-around, but unfortunately ‘All at Once’ is missing the high points that made ‘The Airborne Toxic Event’ great.