From Down Under, TLE’s Newest More Of What We’ve Heard Before
Author: L.A. Tarone
You’d sort of expect a band named The Living End to be at least a touch retro. After all, the phrase “the living end” is a somewhat dated expression to say someone or something is exceptional. You know, “Tuesday Weld is the living end!”
When the three Melbourne school chums (singer/guitarist Chris Cheney, bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Demsey) formed, they tried to be an Aussie Stray Cats – the early ’80s trio who sounded 50s rockabilly but dressed in standard ’80s garb. They played something resembling rockabilly, and even used an upright bass, as their heroes did. They copied the Cats’ look. But by the time they formed (their high school senior year, 1994), it was dated.
TLE first got attention in clubs around Melbourne. They attracted enough attention to get the primo gig of opening for Green Day when they toured Australia in 1996. After that tour ended. TLE cut their first recording, an EP called “Hellbound.” Late the next year, after another tour as an opening act, they recorded their second EP “It’s For Your Own Good.”
Their first Aussie hit came in 1998, when “Prisoner of Society” made the top five down under. That was enough to get notice here. Reprise Records signed them and issued their first two EPs together as one CD in the summer of 1998. In early 1999, their first full album. “The Living End,” was issued.
It has taken over two years for a follow-up. “Roll On” was issued recently.
The in-between time was mostly spent touring. TLE was on the Australian road until last summer. They then joined the Warped Tour for 10 shows here.
Afterward, they went back home and hit the studio to cut this disc. The basic tracks were finished a year ago. But they spent the next near-year designing the disc’s artwork and having the basics remixed by veteran producer Jerry Finn.
But by now, all the rockabilly traces, except the standup bass, are gone. The sound is all late 70s “punk.” much like their Aussie forefathers The Saints. But where that group used horns and other added instruments, TLE slams their way through everything with your basic three-piece outfit.
Cheney and Owen split lead vocals on virtually every cut.
“Roll On” is a Green Day-esque smasher. though the Aussie accents are obvious. The backup vocals are sung like a military choral group. It’s a pro-union song, though I take it to be about a specific incident, which is unknown here.
“Pictures In the Mirror” is another slammer and the most Saints-like. The chorus has a neat hook, while verses are melodic, though played at breakneck pace.
Feedback starts “Riot on Broadway,” and we’re in for more of the same – a 90-mph slammer with another hooky chorus. It’s angry, but never states at and over what.
“Staring At The Light” is another slammer, albeit a tad bit slower.
“Carry Me Home” takes a stab at an “arena rock” sound. But, after the metalish intro, it turns into another banger. Lyrics are a homage to getting drunk (“All you need is alcohol, step right up and be a man… freedom’s just another open bottle anyway…I want another round so bring it on it’s my shout…”). It doesn’t seem to be sarcasm, but it’s hard to take it seriously.
The riff which opens “Don’t Shut The Gate” sounds like a lead part played over and again.
Lyrics are more a rhyme of “ion” words than anything else, “isolate for protection, put a gate on detention.” then. “separation, correction, selection, apprehension.” Rather than saying much using few words, they say nothing. It’s played well, and the bridge is sort of clever. But, it’s far from awe-inspiring.
“Dirty Man” is another late 70s slammer. This time, it sounds like “Give ‘Em Enough Rope Clash.
TLE makes a pitch to change the pace with “Blood On Your Hands.” It’s pseudo-reggae the way the Police was, but harder and with a sharper edge. But that’s in verses only. Bridges and the chorus are slammed through again.
“Revolution Regained” is more venting than anger. Lyrics say nothing and come off as more of an “I’m angry!” pose than anything else. The sound is sharp yet poppish. But the effect is more dare than statement.
“Silent Victory” starts with a change in sound, as the fuzz pedal is gone. But lyrics meander. At one point, it’s a love song (she said you’re a substitute, she said can’t you see we’re through”). Elsewhere it’s a battle anthem” (“we won’t surrender until the end… won’t someone hear the battle cry”).
“Read About It” is probably the best lyric here. It’s about the fascination people have with the Sons of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world: “You and I we read about it, we idolize the criminal mind, is there a method in our madness, and we fanaticize of committing crimes…” The song’s structure is another slammer, with some uneven lines and breaks.
“Killing the Right” almost sounds like “Read About It. part two.” What right is killed is never explained, though there are vague references to the voices in his head. Sound is, again, pretty neat. But it doesn’t say anything
“Astoria Paranoia” is probably the best thing here. Lyrics are about excessive paranoia resulting in a breakdown. It’s played well, with some hooks and twists, though the “insanity” thing wears thin.
“Uncle Harry” again talks about insanity. this time in a purposelessly nasty way. TLE makes fun of Harry as he urinates in the bathtub. “Oh Uncle Harry we really shouldn’t laugh. but every time we turn around, you’re p****ing the bath… It changes tempo three times which is sort of inventive.
“Prisoner of Society” is a supposed “youth anthem,” but it says nothing you haven’t heard before: “I’m a brat, and I know everything, and I talk back… We don’t need no-one to tell us what to do.” There’s speed and (I suppose) anger, but that’s not the same as fire. There’s none of that.
This enhanced disc has very average videos for “Mirrors” and “Prisoner.”
The Living End is not without pluses. They play well. Guitarist Cheney is lightning fast. Drummer Demsey is terrific. I love the flat “bang” he gets.
Reviewers have been falling over themselves praising their mix of ska, reggae, rockabilly and punk. But, there is no mix on “Roll On.” Instead, they come off as another “punk” band like so many others.
Their quasi-leftist political stance has no conviction. Lyrics are irate, but aren’t overly clever. And there’s something prefab about their “anger.” Only in spots do they explain what they’re angry about.
TLE is competent, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. Twenty years ago, there were so many bands that sounded alike, it’s hard to remember all their names (Sham 69. Agent Orange. Anti Nowhere League, Code Blue). And most had more conviction.
So, none of this is new. Little of it is all that interesting.
Six and a half out of 10.