Living & Learning
Author: Zoe Radas
Instead of returning to rally-cry roots, Chris Cheney mined his personal travails to inform The Living End’s new album, Shift.
The great thing about The Living End is that when they leap into the air, you never have any question about whether they’re going to land. Melodies and rhythms fling outwards but always snap back, like rubber bands (not rubber balls). It’s the pattern in the raw product that’s kind of baked into the trio’s bones, and it’s all the way through new album Shift – even though the release sounds incredibly different from their previous work, and thematically, it’s brand new territory.
“I felt like the more honest and real that the lyrics seemed to be, the better the song was going to be,” says singer and guitarist Chris Cheney. “It just felt like it would be doing a disservice to the songs, I reckon, had we dumbed them down. It’s the warts and all and it can be a bit ugly, but that’s life, huh.”
Cheney and his bandmates Scott Owen (bass) and Andy Strachan (drums) are interested to see how these tracks will grab the minds of listeners, considering the former’s move to the introspective; paradoxically, it could be more inclusive. “We’ve always written in the third person, and weren’t too literal with our lyrics. And I think that’s more isolating,” Cheney says. “We’ve got a lot of these real rally cry, sing-along, anthem tunes, and in a way you almost hand them over to the audience – at some of our gigs, they take the lead vocal. But I really feel like people are going to connect with this album and with the band. They’re going to hear stuff that doesn’t really sound like The Living End.”
Single Keep On Running is acutely moving and hopeful, with minor chords scattered throughout the sweet parts. Cheney says it began as a collaborative session with a mate whose children “get along really well” with the singer’s own offspring. “We’d been saying for months, ‘We should crack a couple of beers and write something together,’ and one day we finally got around to it. It was almost, I don’t know, sort of like talking to our kids: ‘It’s all going to be OK. There’s going to be some pretty heavy times, and you’re going to go through some sh-t, but it will work out.’ Yeah, when everything’s going great, there is that bittersweet thing of, well, for how long, until it turns sour? But I think that’s the beauty of a song like that. You’ve got to just live in the now, don’t you. So yes, it’s our Chariots of Fire. Inspirational moment,” he chuckles.
From the inspirational to the emotive, one particularly stand-out cut is With Enemies Like That. The true quality of Cheney’s voice is baldly laid out in its melodies, and there’s absolutely no leaning on laurels of nostalgia or phony feelings; Cheney’s assertion that this is “an ‘I’ record, not a ‘we’ record” filters through all its parts. Perhaps it comes from the band’s newly discovered, inherent sense of selection. “You’ve just got to find the right perspective,” Cheney says. “For whatever reason, we seem to have a better perspective and a better way of stepping back, looking at the songs and deciding on what they needed. And sometimes that was less,” he explains.
In terms of the catalyst for output, there’s got to be a spark, and sometimes the fiercer the better. “I don’t know many bands that can just get in there and produce greatness without any kind of friction,” Cheney says. “We all butted heads. There were some doozies. We know each other far too well, and that’s the reason you can say, ‘No, you get f-cked.’” An adjudicator came in the form of Woody Annison, long-time friend and live engineer of the band’s shows. “He knows how we want to sound live, and that’s always the initial idea of going into a studio – to try and catch that common energy,” says Cheney. “He was going to be great at being able to say, ‘You’ve done enough takes for that,’ or ‘That part’s fine, don’t squash all the energy out of it by trying to perfect it.’ Because that’s the danger: that you can get it really, really good and then it’s boring. But the only time we were disagreeing on things was because we wanted to find the best result,” he asserts. “And that’s definitely what we got.”
Up The Junction
There’s a totally synchronised breakdown at the heart of this belter, in which drums, guitar, bass and most importantly space are in complete unison. But it’s Cheney’s subtle harmonies and the timbre of his voice, which cuts through everything like a sweet vinegar, which is the kicker.
Staring Down The Barrel
In terms of vocals, this is the most astonishing of the tracks on Shift; were it played to you in isolation, you may not know it’s Cheney at all. His voice has a vibrato which rolls onto a meaner edge while Owen and Strachan provide a relentless, perpetual motion behind the aching lyrics.
Keep On Running
They say that any happy moment is inherently sad, because we’re aware that happiness is ephemeral, like everything else. That poignancy is captured perfectly in gentle oscillations between major and minor chords while Strachan kicks out little off-beat accents on the snare, and chugging strings complement the track’s hopeful feel.
In this cracker, pithy rhyming phrases are spat out, repeated, and spun around to reflect on themselves, and Strachan gallops his sticks ferociously across hi-hat and snare.
With Enemies Like That
Try keeping your willies together while listening to Cheney sing “Remember when there was no wrong or right, just a feeling in the night.” Never mawkish, this is genuine reflection all over.
Author: Chris Murray
Twenty-two years of playing seriously intense music (to varying critical and commercial success) hasn’t dampened the torch one molecule.
That unmistakable raw and middle-fingered energy is still front and centre in The Living End’s latest. Except, they’ve dropped the ‘Clash meets Stray Cats’ style pigeonhole; this is instead a dark, angry and furious record dripping with sweat, regret and a pain you have to punch through. Old school Australian rock, modern moods and frank authenticity fall from lead singer Cheney’s lips. Life As We Know It is a highlight amongst solid work that will see ample airplay and deserved success. Nice one!