For a band that toured the world with Lady Gaga there’s very little that’s impossible. But there is something: defining the band. Vocalist Justin Tranter is firm when he says it and it’s clear that’s the end of that line of questions.
“That’s impossible, absolutely impossible.” He’s kindly resolute. One of very few people that can drop “fabulous” into a sentence and instantly shift the mood. It’s almost a catchphrase of his and if there’s one word that could define Tranter to a stranger, it’s fabulous.
It comes down to personality and on a phone line, that spends more time cutting out than we do talking, it’s his personality that comes out above all else. And in the case of the latest release, Aviation, personality, in this case the band’s, dominates the album in a way we’ve not yet seen for Semi Precious Weapons.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Tranter tells me reflectively. “It was almost four years since We Love You.” Two of those years were spent touring the world with Lady Gaga (“it was great experience. It did come with a preconceived notion of how we should sound or what we should look like but that’s a high class problem. It’s a good problem to have,” he quips.) and the rest of the time was writing and “record label bullshit.”
Part of their growth – and it’s a stark difference between Aviation and We Love You – has been getting off their self imposed rules and Tranter opening up more than ever. “The old record had quote unquote rock and roll rules. While the essence of the new record is still rock and roll there were no rules around what we could and couldn’t do.”
With rock and roll at its heart, Aviation is sexy, upbeat, honest and brooding. It’s characterized by Tranter’s openness about relationships, the good and the bad, or as he says “when someone lies to you and cheats on you and all of that shit. But I’ve written about how good relationships can be as well and I wanted to make it fabulous.”
One hundred songs later it was cut down to the best 12 (it then took five hours to get the order of the track listing right. “I know people download one or two songs and we’re happy with that, but for us the order of the songs colors them differently. It tells the story of the album and it’s the order you need to hear the songs.”) And what we’re left with is “lots of love, lots of heartbreak and, of course, a lot of partying.”
It raises the question: do you ever have bad days and want to make heavy music? The answer: “For sure, all the time.” You wouldn’t guess it from the uptempo feeling of the album but the melancholy is definitely there. “There are a couple of songs that have a hopeful sentiment but that have more of a down tempo vibe.” Tranter says they’re generally positive people and that the new album is all about “looking up into the sky, the hopefulness, the darkness and it’s about flying and aviation.”
From the first song to the last Aviation is every dimension of Semi Precious Weapons at this point in time. It comes from the heart but also from hundreds of hours writing, practicing, perfecting. It’s as beautiful as it is imaginative and Tranter and the band have left their personalities imprinted on an album that’s truly fabulous.
Justin Tranter has one of the, if not the, sexiest voices in rock music. Aviation drips with that sexiness and that, in itself, is enough to rate the album highly. The album opens with single “Aviation High” (which, paired with the music video, sums the album up: temptation, sex, relationships, love, heartbreak and looking up) which is the first example of their new no-rules philosophy. They’ve shrugged off the rules of rock and roll and explore the moods of this album as diversely musically as they have lyrically.
Predominantly uptempo and optimistic, it’s near impossible to sit still during this album. It’s not only infectious, it’s commanding. “Look To The Stars” is packed with synths, a helluva beat, and a joyous sound that will have you up and dancing (in any and every way you know how). When it slows down and becomes melancholic, the overall vibe of the album moves freely from one track to the next. They’ve taken great care placing each song in the album and so it plays through as a journey and not a random collection.
If you’re new to Semi Precious Weapons the album deserves a couple of listens. If you’re a fan, within that time you’ll be singing along. Tranter’s openness about his life and relationships makes this one of the most relatable party-cum-rock albums we’ve seen for a while.
By Sebastian Mackay