From the rollicking guitars and explosive chorus of opening track ‘Book of Love’, it’s clear Tonight Alive are ditching the pop elements that dominated much of their third effort Limitless, to return instead to the alt-rock of the fantastic 2013 The Other Side. Besides the surprise departure of guitarist Whakaio Taahi, this is very much business as usual.
“The end result is a stale record which sounds more like a new band”
While effectively pretending Limitless never existed is no doubt a move that will please the majority of fans disillusioned by that record, Tonight Alive seem to have gone one step further, deciding to ignore the past five years of pop-punk history while writing Underworld. The end result is a stale record which sounds more like a new band trying to imitate The Other Side than an album penned by the same musicians who delivered it, carrying half-a-decade’s more song-writing experience under their belts.
Infact, Underworld goes as far as to rehash some of the lyrical concepts of previous records. As well as a throwaway reference to ‘the other side’ (really) in ‘Book of Love’, ‘Temple’ explores lead singer Jenna McDougall’s eczma far less subtly than 2013’s ‘The Ocean’ and ‘Bathwater’ ever did (‘If my body is a temple, why does it hurt like this?’), and sounds nowhere near as interesting while doing so.
“Few listeners are likely to stick around long enough to reach these better moments”
The truth is, the vast majority of the songs Underworld offers are forgettable. Sure, ‘Disappear’ has a decent enough melody and the quality improves somewhat in the record’s second half with cuts like ‘Crack My Heart’, ‘Just for Now’ and ‘Burning On’ picking up the pace, but few listeners are likely to stick around long enough to reach these better moments. And even if they do, they’ll find the only reason these tracks are ‘better’ is because they more effectively capture the spirit of The Other Side, rather than because they try something new.
What is most disappointing is Tonight Alive often seem close to pulling something off, but are let down by production – the instrumentation for ‘In My Dreams’ (which contains one of McDougall’s strongest one-liners, ‘I feel so alien in the place that I call home’) fails to match the groove attempted by Jenna’s vocals, making the song sound jarring and almost hard-to-listen to. Meanwhile, ‘For You’ is a decent if done mid-paced pop ballad chockablock with clichés which doesn’t do anything to differentiate itself from all the other near-identical songs already floating around out there.
The only three definitively good songs appear right at the end of the record, all of which bizarrely sound at points like they belong more in musicals than at the tail end of a pop-rock record, and even the would-be-beautiful ‘Last Light’ loses something in production. Ironically, ‘Looking for Heaven’ would have been a far more effective ending for Underworld than the title track itself, which really should have been placed earlier or otherwise discarded completely.
“Do yourself a favour and start listening at Track 11”
Hardcore Tonight Alive fans craving for something more akin to the band’s heyday material will find much to love here at first, but will quickly find the song-writing and production to be too lacklustre to merit repeat visits. Unfortunately, fans of the band’s debut pop-punk record What Are You So Scared Of? will continue to be disappointed, and there really isn’t enough interesting here to convert any new listeners. Do yourself a favour and start listening at Track 11, and, much like the band seem to have done with the last half-decade of their career, pretend what came earlier doesn’t actually exist.
Image Courtesy of Tonight Alive Official Webpage