The Living End
Author: Tom Phalen
The Living End
While Australian retro-rockabilly-punksters the Living End aren’t as cute or funny as Green Day, as politically articulate as The Clash or even as retro- rockabilly as The Stray Cats — all bands they greatly admire — their Foster- sized sense of self coupled with an engagingly innocent social and personal outlook makes them more winning than they might otherwise be.
Still young — guitarist Chris Cheney, double bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Dempsey are all in their mid 20s — they’ve been together almost five years with a couple of EPs and a platinum selling single — the opening track “Prisoner of Society” — released in their homeland. Living End is their American full length debut and it has the comfortable instrumental polish of a band that has bonded. Stylistically they’re rooted in rockabilly, but they make excursions into punk, ska and, in the case of “Bloody Mary,” a song about a girl who slashes her wrists in public to garner attention, the reverberated psychobilly of The Cramps.
Lyrically, they take a working class, i.e. complaining, view of the world, whether it’s the trials of a typical teenager on “Prisoner,” the social separation of the caste system in the “Street Fighting Man”-style of “West End Riot,” or just the tedium of a brutal, dead end job in “I Want A Day.” These are universal gripes and told in simple, near monosyllabic terms. “Well we don’t need no one to tell us what to do,” sings Cheney, “Oh yes we’re on our own and there’s nothing you can do” are Everyman sentiments, and it’s there the band is most convincing.
Where they get in trouble is trying to tackle subjects still beyond their scope. On some, they’re successful. “Second Solution” has the urgency of a death row convict running out of time. “What I want to say is will I die today?” pretty succinctly sums things up. And in “All Torn Down,” which rails against the destruction of hometown landmarks in the name of progress and gentrification, the same also holds true. It isn’t the first time a band has said, “I see the city and it’s grown into a big machine. The streets are freeways and the parks are just a memory,” but here it’s stated concisely.
But “Monday,” the story of the schoolyard massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, is far too similar to The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t like Mondays.” While Cheney’s heart may be in the right place, the comparisons are distracting, and his song lacks the compelling melody and arrangement of Bob Geldof’s chilling portrayal of sociopathic behavior.
However, the instrumental “Closing In,” which finishes the record, exudes nothing but mood and emotion. The simple structure and engaging theme suggest surf guitarist Dick Dale channeling Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite composer Bernard Hermann. It’s meatier than most of what we all heard in Pulp Fiction, and shows real promise and direction.
The Living End might not be all that, but the potential is definitely there.