The Living End: They Shall Overcome
Author: Vicki Fisher
For Australian rockabilly/ punk band The Living End, it’s all about overcoming obstacles. Bouncing back from a 2001 car accident that almost killed singer/guitarist Chris Cheney and the sudden departure of their drummer in 2002, The Living End (now comprising Cheney, bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan) prove that their third album, Modern ARTillery, was well worth the wait. (It’s been four years.)
While Modern ARTillery doesn’t have the raw power of the band’s 1998 self-titled debut, it packs a rock-n-roll punch that could earn The Living End the recognition it deserves.
From the first second, the album sounds like any other of the band’s releases, with a fury of fast-paced punk mixed with rockabilly on “What Would You Do?” But then the band turns a different track on most of the following songs, deviating a bit from their typical sound, producing addictive hooks and subtle, melodic choruses.
Two of the album’s best tracks, “Short Notice,” and “Hold Up,” feature the band’s signature brand of punk. “Short Notice” is an unequivocally catchy and raw punk song, while “Hold Up” is an urgent and descriptive story about a bank robbery. It’s hard to deny the influence of Elvis Costello’s jangly pop sensibility in songs like “Maitland Street,” “Jimmy” and “In the End,” and early U2-style guitars in “Maitland Street,” but The Living End manage to give the songs their own sharp flavor. Cheney has definitely stepped up a level with his song-writing and guitar playing, both of which are impressive but not over-the-top.
The album’s singles already released in Australia (“One Said to the Other,” “Who’s Gonna Save Us?” and “Tabloid Magazine”) are three of the of the band’s best efforts since they joined up in the mid-1990s as a rockabilly band heavily influenced by the Stray Cats. “Who’s Gonna Save Us?” is a chunky fist-pumping sing-along similar to “Prisoner of Society,” the band’s first single in 1998. This song, however, is definitely more complex, both lyrically and musically.
On the 8-minute finale, “The Room,” Cheney leads us on an odyssey started by a Who-like intro. This song, about a prisoner unable to adjust to being released after a long prison sentence, switches from driving guitars to acoustic guitars and back, yielding the most experimental and interesting song the band has ever written.
In Modern ARTillery The Living End has managed to produce an album that is free of all the eclectic frills that many bands incorporate today and shows that a band can successfully experiment and still hold its own style. Cheney developed an album full of great songs that maintains the band’s original sound, yet brings them to the next level by illustrating their strengths.
The Living End’s next hurdle will be proving itself to American audiences. “Will we be remembered/Or lost in history?,” asks Cheney in “Maitland Street.” I hope Modern ARTillery will be recognized as a great album and that the band might gain as much credibility in the U.S. as it has in Australia.
Modern ARTillery is due out in the United States March 2.