The Living End
Author: Joshua Martin
You won’t see repackaged, remastered, or rehashed iterations of The Living End’s 20-year-old eponymous debut record this year – singer and guitarist Chris Cheney doesn’t care for anniversaries.
For him, 2018 is Wunderbar – the band’s staunchly contemporary new LP, recorded in icy Berlin. Upon its release, a few things will immediately confront fans of The Living End – not least of all its tongue in cheek German title. The garish purple cover is another departure, an array of nine television sets broadcasting fractured palm trees.
“I like the idea of a paradise, an unobtainable thing we’re all looking at through our screens and devices, all trying to make our lives better through technology. It tied into my experience too, having left LA being all palm trees, then being in the harshness of Berlin and looking back at the palm trees of LA,” Cheney explains.
The surprising abstraction continues into the album itself, a set of 11 tracks spanning personal politics and identity as a microcosm for simmering political divide, condensed into the purest white-hot rock’n’roll the band has written in years.
“I used to be always trying to be a character, always trying to be something else and try to put myself into a role. I think with this record there’s a lot of me coming to terms with the way I sing and play guitar and the way I write songs,” Cheney says.
Nearly every part of Wunderbar’s distinct character leads back to the album’s sessions in Berlin and the baroque small town of Rottenburg an der Fulda where German producer Tobias Kuhn enticed the band to record in a blistering six week period in February. Germany remains a bastion of rock’n’roll, immune to the irrelevance plaguing the genre elsewhere and The Living End revel in its proud regional tradition on Wunderbar, collaborating with Dusseldorf rock heroes Die Toten Hosen on several tracks.
“We first went there back in 1998 or 1999. We were so green that it felt like such a foreign place. I was like ‘Wow, I feel like I’m on another planet completely.’
“[Die Toten Hosen are] the ones who first took us to Germany in ‘98 – we’ve stayed in contact with them and done a lot of shows with them over the years. It needed that big voice, that big chant, and we thought who better than those guys to come and yell on it.”
Wunderbar’s best tracks are a distinctly Australian mish-mash of international influences with unexpected maturity; ‘Not Like the Other Boys’ rails against traditional moulds of masculinity (“Didn’t I try to raise you like a man? Just like the other boys”) while ‘Amsterdam’ showcases an unguarded Cheney against just an electric guitar.
“[‘Amsterdam’] was written as a full band track and it had this surf-garage line, almost like early Midnight Oil. I pitched it to the band and everyone was like, ‘Yeah, it’s great but it doesn’t fit what the album is.’ It was Tobias who suggested stripping everything away and step up to the microphone with the guitar,” Cheney says.
Standout track ‘Death of the American Dream’ uses Cheney’s experience in the US as a template for a psychobilly 21st century interpolation of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ before a reflective acoustic interlude offers the troubled superpower a bone.
In 2012, Cheney lamented he could “sympathise with guys who have felt like they have done all they can in a band.” The patchy two records that followed, 2011’s The Ending is Just The Beginning Repeating and 2015’s Shift stayed that course, but things couldn’t be more different now.
“You go through hurdles and slumps through the years and maybe we were going through one then. I can’t see any sign of us slowing down at this point. For a long time I was consumed by the Living End and that was when it became a grind. I think this record has done so much for us and our own enthusiasm.”