For years, people were under the misapprehension The Living End were a kind of Stray Cats meets Green Day. In truth, their sound was more rooted in the hard driving rock riffola of bands closer to home. AC/DC and The Angels were always lurking beneath the surface.
On their fourth album The Living End should finally shake the punk monkey from their backs and see them assume their position as the classiest rock act in the country today.
Album opener Till The End explodes from the speakers like a screeching Falcon down Mt Panorama’s Conrod Straight.
The band weren’t happy with the way the previous album, the patchy Modern Artillery sounded. That was due, in part, to an unhappy time spent in an LA studio. But this one, recorded in Byron Bay, is their most complete offering since Roll On.
Long Live The Weekend builds on an upbeat jangle verse to a euphoric chorus. We Want More, with its massive shouty bits, sounds like it could have been recorded on stage at last year’s Splendour In The Grass. Chris Cheney’s fretwork is, as always, frenetic and on big guitar tracks such as Reborn and Black Cat, is more fluid courtesy of their seemingly endless touring cycle.
On What’s On Your Radio Cheney’s guitar licks grab your throat and don’t let go ’til the end. But it’s the brooding, atmospheric tracks No Way Out and the album’s highwater Nothing Lasts Forever which set this band apart from everybody else out there.
At a time when rock is in danger of turning disco, thank God these guys are here to save us.
Think you know The Living End? Prepare to be confounded – and pleasantly surprised. Lauren McMenemy speaks to Chris Cheney.
There’s a certain idea most people have about the Living End. They’ve maybe heard Prisoner Of Society or West End Riot from the early days and pigeonholed the Melbourne trio as a one-dimensional punkabilly band with nothing particularly much to say.
That caricature has been getting to Chris Cheney of late. As far back as its second album, Roll On – produced, like the latest record, State Of Emergency, by Nick Launay – the Living End has been pushing the boundaries of what people think they should do.
And yet still that stereotype persists.
“Mentally and physically we put so much into our music and I don’t like to be seen as one-dimensional,” Cheney bemoans. “A lot of people think of the band as being this punkabilly band, which I think is so narrow minded.
“It’s important for me and it’s important for the life of the band that we can show different sides and show that we can actually pull it off, which I think we’ve done on this album. Perhaps we didn’t as much on the last one (Modern Artillery), but I think this album has nailed a few of those things we were reaching for and didn’t quite achieve.
“For me it’s important to actually blow people away.”
State Of Emergency is set to do just that. Anyone who has dismissed the Living End as a mere cartoon will literally be blown away by this record, a fully realised, considered and consistent fourth album from one of Australia’s best.
“That should probably be in block letters at the top of the article: ‘Shock, horror, Chris Cheney is happy with album’,” Cheney, notoriously hard on his work, laughs.
“I think that it’s taken a lot to get it to this point but was well worth it. It almost killed us in the process. It was really difficult a lot of the time and we gave it everything we could and we got sick and we ended up having to do most of the artwork and stuff ourselves.
“It’s been a labour of love, and I think because of that reason we look back and go ‘wow’. It’s really an achievement and we made sure we got everything right.”
The trick, it seems, was re-teaming with Launay. That allowed the band the time and opportunity to fully explore their ideas – stretching from a children’s choir at the end of latest single Wake Up to the addition of horns on some tracks.
“I think people have a cliché of this band as being all fast and punky and gung-ho and everything, but I think there’s also a side, on every album, to the band that has dabbled in slower songs and layered parts and more interesting stuff than just three-chord punk rock,” Cheney says.
“We tried to just further that this time.”
One-dimensional punkabilly this is not.
“We just tried not to settle for second best every step of the way, as far back as even just me writing the songs,” Cheney says. “I don’t ever want to get to the point of ‘oh, that’s not good enough’, because it just doesn’t work.
“I don’t think there’s any room for laziness, and we were really adamant this time to make sure every step of the way was done properly.
“When it came to actually recording, we would track a song until we were bleeding. If that’s what it took, that’s what we would do. And I think you can hear the results on there.
“And I just feel that it was worth it. It took its toll on the band, that’s for sure. But now we can all sit back and just really feel proud of it.
“We’re so passionate about music and about what we do that I think we couldn’t fake it if we tried. Hopefully, that comes across flaws and all. And that’s fine, because that means it’s more human and has got more heart.”
State Of Emergency (EMI) is out now.
Art Of The State
Author: Lauren McMenemy
Forget all that has come before, and everything that has been said. State Of Emergency is The Living End’s finest hour. Almost as if the release of its singles collection gave it the freedom to move on, Emergency has the End taking the music to the next level.
It’s got the polish of Roll On, the energy of everything the Living End has ever put on record and, of course, the anthems. But Emergency is guaranteed to silence those critics who call the band one-dimensional. Take Wake Up for example: the addition of a children’s choir gives the track that extra haunting quality. And the horns – my goodness, the horns. Remember when Midnight Oil added horns to Power & The Passion, or the Saints did it with Know Your Product? You get that same feeling from One Step Behind – that chill goes up your spine and you’re completely in the moment. And there’s plenty of those moments on State Of Emergency. It’s completely inspiring, and a sign The Living End really is the best Australian band of its generation.
Where would the Living End be without their trademark musical urgency? The opening track ‘Til The End reinforces everything the band does well – including driving bass lines from Scott Owen and striking vocals from Chris Cheney. But it soon becomes evident there is definitely a shifting sound here, with less of a punk rockabilly feel on State Of Emergency and a number of songs projecting a straight-out rock feel. The band’s rock experimentation is at times invigorating and at other times disconcerting, perhaps because the shifting styles don’t give the album a singular identity. But there is intrigue in the renewed emphasis on Cheney’s guitar skills and singing. Cheney’s vocals are deep and sultry on Wake Up – but the song becomes a little uncomfortable when children start singing back-up vocals (a move reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall). The brisk and entertaining Long Live The Weekend sounds like a purposeful anthem, but other tracks, including No Way Out and Nowhere Town, are less predictable.
They’re Slicker, But Not Slower
Author: Scott Podmore
The Living End has been around long enough that one could forgive them if they were to take the foot off the pedal, cruise down easy street for a while and maybe, um, sell out a little.
Some punters already are calling that one – but rest assured, that’s garbage.
The Living End lads have fired up on all cylinders and cranked out a cracker of an album with State Of Emergency, their fourth studio effort.
The energetic three-piece continues a solid work ethic, getting out there and working it (that means doing the smaller gigs). And there’s never been a hint of inflated egos.
Our answer to Green Day in terms of the punk/rockabilly thing, the Melbourne trio has simply broadened its palette a little and incorporated a poppier edge to the artillery. Importantly, the rock ‘n’ roll remains in big doses.
From the word go, it’s too hard to sit still as the album blasts off with stompin’ ‘Til The End, followed by jump-around, sing-it-out-loud Long Live The Weekend.
There’s more where that came from. The picks from an incredibly healthy crop include first single What’s On Your Radio, the Oils-spiced anthem Wake Up, the jazzy-edged Nowhere Town and hook-laden pop-rocker Nothing Lasts Forever.
The Living End has placed it’s faith in producer Nick Launay (Midnight Oil, INXS, Eskimo Joe, Nick Cave, Silverchair…you could go on) to rub his golden touch over this and he nails a slick production on all 14 songs.
While the band’s list of achievements and awards is a sparkling read, the most exciting thing about this album is that it’s their best work yet.
As frontman Chris Cheney says: “This time, yeah, we’re doing some different things, but it sounds like The Living End doing different things, not like The Living End trying to sound like a different band.”
Damn right, Mr Cheney – this State Of Emergency is to die for.
After the more polished and often slower-paced affair that was Modern Artillery, many critics hailed what they regarded as the ‘maturing’ of The Living End’s sound. While more than satisfied with the offering, a few fans – and, as time went on, the trio themselves – became quietly anxious about the band losing their ‘edge’. Hence, Chris Cheney’s first impulse with the follow-up was to return to the band’s fast and frantic punk roots, with stripped down, live’n’raw production. It was an amiable idea that, much to the album’s benefit, he didn’t regard too religiously.
With Australia’s living connection to the original punk movement Nick Launay (Roll On) back at the helm, the band aimed to make this album an extravaganza of killer live songs, from beginning to end. And they have more than succeeded. Long-time fans will find something instantly recognisable in songs like Long Live the Weekend and We Want More, which hail back to the anthemic, air-punching sound of the band’s debut. Even better, they’ll find this same tight energy in the more clever arrangements of What’s on your Radio and Till the End. It’s punk, yes, but with a layered sophistication that only experienced musicians like The Living End can muster. And after being an unwitting participant in the moshing frenzy that greeted TLE for their Big Day Out stint, I feel a strange mixture of anticipation and dread imagining what will ensue when the title track of this album is unleashed in a live setting. Woah, man.
Live’n’raw is all very well when it’s what the songs call for, but after workshopping their selections for some time, the band wisely decided that some of them were worthy of dressing up. Politically-charged single Wake Up benefits a great deal from a chorus of children joining the rallying cry, while Chris hat-tips Power And The Passion with the big brass rock-out of One Step Behind. Even a bit of pop ambience is allowed in places, both for the uncannily sweet vocal harmonies of No Way Out, which lays the foundation for a sucker-punch of hard-attack angst, and for the mournfully resonant guitar of Nothing Lasts Forever.
After hearing this album, you start to wonder if maybe the more spacious sound of Modern Artillery wasn’t just the band feeling each other out. Drummer Andy Strachan was new to the fold then, and though he proved himself a competent replacement to Travis Demsey, the time he has had to come into his own has really paid dividends. No offence to Travis, but Andy ROCKS. Meanwhile, Chris Cheney’s bag of guitar solo tricks is more generous than ever, and his intuition for when to pull something out of it is perfect. Just listen to his killer fingerwork in final track Into The Red, one last taste of the band in full-throttle mode that left my jaw flapping in the breeze.
It might mean a complete defiance of the laws of physics, but somehow The Living End have managed to create an album that is well-rounded and edgy. In an era of rock music where one must increasingly choose between slick production and pure rocking spirit, this album is a glorious reminder that… YES, we can have both.
For home-grown rock album of 2006, this will be tough to beat.
Some bands go through life trying to discover and rediscover something new about their sound. Sometimes it’s to maintain their own interest, and sometimes it’s just because they’re wankers, but The Living End are an exception. They know who they are, they know what they’re good at and they know that we know… and we like it. They’re the kings of blistering live performances, stirring a festival crowd into frenzy and penning a hook-heavy song like nobody’s business. Spoilt for choice with a list of over 40 possible tracks to record, The Living End certainly weren’t experiencing a state of emergency with this latest release. Opening with Till The End you’ll immediately feel at home – it’s that signature rhythm, it gets you every time. No Way Out and Nothing Lasts Forever shift the tempo slightly, with a smoother melody line and plenty of harmonies for a really fresh break in the beats. If What’s On Your Radio wasn’t really doing it for you, there’s plenty that outshine it across the 14 tracks. The golden goose is still laying, and for now that’s a good thing.
For their latest album, The Living End adopt the urgency of the record’s title. Sure, the attributes for which we know and love the band are still there: the thumping rockabilly beats, Chris Cheney’s anthemic choruses and stinging lead guitar. But the simple, air-punching sloganeering of Second Solution and Prisoner of Society are replaced with a more nervous energy in Long Live The Weekend and even desperation in No Way Out. Then there’s the surprising down-tempo single Wake Up, ending in a sinister mantra delivered by a kiddie chorus (“Suicidal education that got sold to our generation”). This is a more complex, frightening world The Living End are presenting to us, but the rigorous big-chorus rock & roll of Till The End ensures the fans shouldn’t be too alienated. There’s still a sense of fun in the Ronettes beat of Order Of The Day, showing that the boys thankfully still possess a lightness of touch, while We Want More and What’s On Your Radio are loud and triumphant. A bigger, denser noise is rarely heard in a three piece.
The latest offering from The Living End, State Of Emergency is perhaps their most accomplished yet with a new maturity and diversity to accompany their familiar and uniquely identifiable sound. There are not as many frenzied moments in that speeded-up-rockabilly method though it is still employed (and successfully), in the first single ‘What’s On Your Radio’ as on previous works, and in its place is a more polished pop-rock feel with a range of melodies and tempos. The catchy hooklines are still there, and there’s plenty of punk power remaining but the lyrics create stories in an ‘All Torn Down’ fashion more often than on earlier albums. The successful combination of garage rock with great pop sensibilities and a touch of ska brings to mind the joy of the first two Australian Crawl albums. Every song is enjoyable but among the highlights are ‘Long Live The Weekend’, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, ‘One Step Behind’ and ‘Order Of The Day’ as well as the powerful title cut and the opening track ‘Till The End’. Perhaps the band feels this is the start of a new chapter in the their history after the era-closing compilation released last year.
The Living End are moving on from a disappointing album the best way possible – recording a new one. “It’s probably good that we made Modern ARTillery, because we didn’t want to make another album like it”, they tell Tom Hawking.
It’s ten years since Prisoner Of Society brought The Living End to the nation’s attention. They’ve enjoyed a virtually unbroken run of success since, but the muted reaction to their previous album Modern ARTillery suggested that their momentum might have been failing at last. Singer/guitarist Chris Cheney has since said that he and his band weren’t particularly happy with Modern ARTillery and as such, the band’s new record State Of Emergency represents something of a crossroads for them and a chance to set things right.
At first listen, State Of Emergency is certainly a more accomplished-sounding album than its predecessor. It sounds like The Living End are again comfortable with what they’re doing and sitting down in a Chapel St cafe with all three members of The Living End, I wonder how they feel about State Of Emergency in comparison to its predecessor. Did the problems with Modern ARTillery contribute to a different approach with its follow-up?
Cheney seems happy to act as the band’s spokesman, his bandmates Scott Owen and Andy Strachan contributing the occasional nod of agreement or brief comment. About Modern ARTillery, the singer says, “An album is always an extension of where you’re at when you record it and I think for some reason that… Well we thought at the time and still think, that Modern ARTillery had really good songs on it. I just don’t think they were executed as well as they could have been and that was to do with us being in a weird spot at the time. Also, once we got to recording it, things got a bit weird with the producer. I just don’t think we were focused on the end result and so we ended up making some bad decisions.”
Conversely, he says, “With this album… well, it’s probably good that we made Modern ARTillery, because we didn’t want to make another album like it. The first thing we always try to do is to make sure we have some really good songs and we felt when we were writing and rehearsing it that we had some of the best songs we’ve ever had/ Then it was a matter of transforming them onto tape, capturing something specail and not losing focus again. With this album we worked harder than I think we ever did before and I think you can hear it.”
State Of Emergency also found The Living End re-engaging the services of producer Nick Launay, who last worked with the band on 2000’s Roll On. Cheney says that working with Launay again was responsible for the band regaining their focus, but only to a degree. “*obscured text* needed to have the material first and to have the three of us in the right frame of mind, playing well and all that sort of stuff. There’s only so much a producer can do – there are some great producers out there who have made shit albums, because if there isn’t a good band and good songs to work with, you can’t really do anything. To me, that’s what the producer should do: they should come in and add to the songs. You shouldn’t be arguing with them about parts, y’know?” He pauses and chuckles. “Which is maybe what we did on Modern ARTillery.”
Still, even with Launay back aboard, the making of State Of Emergency was a drawn-out process. The band were in the studio for several months and looking back, Cheney says, “I don’t know what took so long. I really don’t. There were some songs that changed a lot in recording – we were changing the lyrics, the arrangements, tagging on new intros and end bits, all that sort of thing. It takes hours and hours. And we were going for really good takes – y’know, we’d say ‘Right, we’re finishing at midnight tonight’ and at two or three in the morning we’d be still tracking. Still, we did that because we found we were getting results.”
It’s perhaps this perfectionism that has contributed to the band’s relatively limited output over the years. Four albums in ten years is hardly prolific, especially for a band that work in a genre where their contemporaries tend to churn out an album every year or so. There have of course been well-documented obstacles along the way, Cheney’s near-fatal car crash foremost amongst them, but still – does it frustrate the Living End that they haven’t been more productive?
Cheney sighs ruefully. “We have though! We’ve written so many songs! We’ve always got three songs for b-sides and stuff. So yes, it does bug me at times that we haven’t had more albums. It seems that four albums in ten years isn’t that much and it isn’t. But the thing is that they’ve been successful albums, so we’ve end up touring for two or three years on the one album! It’s a double-edged sword, really – if we didn’t have that we’d be complaining, but at the same time I kinda wish we’d released a lot of the other stuff that we’ve written. I suppose that one day we will. You’re right though – we do spend a lot more time than bands likem say, Rancid. But then, I don’t see us as part of that whole scene at all. For the first album, we got caught up in that scene, but I’ve always seen us as a rock ‘n’ roll band, a band that approaches every song individually, rather than just slamming them out.”
Last year offered something of a respite from the constant touring. What did the band do with their time off? Cheney says, “Well the thing is that when we’re at home, people probably think that we’re having a lot of time off, but really, we rehearse pretty intensely when we’re coming up to do an album. We’re also always involved in the artwork for our t-shirts and all that sort of stuff and it kinda frustrates me a bit because it seems like we don’t play our instruments as much as we used to. It becomes like a business and I think you’ve gotta be careful at times that you still have fun with it and that it doesn’t take over, because there have been times when it has threatened to take over. When we finished school, we were playing every weekend, y’know; playing three or four gigs a week and I kinda forget what that’s like. When we go on tour, we enjoy it a lot because it’s back to doing that, back to just playing music.”
Ten years on, then, has the experience of being in a rock band for a living been everything that The Living End expected? Cheney says, “For me, sometimes it’s been harder than I thought it would be. But you guys” – he indicates his bandmates – “You guys would be the first to say that I make it hard for myself. There’s a business side of it that needs doing and I probably bring a lot of that onto myself. You have this fantasy – you see these popular bands, like U2 or whatever an you think, ;Wow, what a life!’ In reality, though, they’re working damn hard. Equally, we;ve never been afraid of hard work and in the last six months we’ve worked harder than we ever have. But the rewards are better these days than they ever have been ,too. I mean, we get played on the radio, we get to tour the world [and] we’ve got gold records, which we thought we’d never get. You can’t have it both ways.”
State Of Emergency is out now through EMI.
The Living End State Of Emergency
Author: Tom Hawking
When the Living End’s Best Of compilation was released last year, Inpress pondered whether it might signal the beginning of the end for a band who exploded ten years ago into the national consciousness with their double A-side Prisoner Of Society/Second Solution. The relative lack of success of 2003’s Modern ARTillery suggested that the nation’s love affair with the band might be coming to an end, with critics concentrating more on singer/guitarist Chris Cheney’s brush with death in a car crash than on the band’s music.
A listen to State Of Emergency suggests that any reports of The Living End’s demise have been very much exaggerated. It retreats from the airbrushed stylings of its predecessor Modern ARTillery and returns to doing what the band do so well -spiky, melodic, punk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll. While they’ve never painted with quite as broad a musical palette as The Clash, a band from whom they obviously take such a great amount of inspiration, they do maintain a similar commitment to transcending the strict, arbitrary limitations of punk in order to make great rock ‘n’ roll music.
Cheney has always been a great songwriter and there are songs on this record that the likes of Grinspoon would never conceive – cases in point include the wistful Nothing Lasts Forever and the melancholy No Way Out. Wake Up turns its attention to politics, managing to avoid flag-waving, chest beating sloganeering in favour of a mournful chorus that turns its ire on the education system, exhorting listeners to “Wake up to the manipulation/Wake up to the situation“.
Still, it’s in its most rocking moments that this album really shines. Perennial JJJ favourites, there’s plenty on here that should make sure that The Living End extend their unbroken run in the Hottest 100 poll into a tenth year next Australia Day. Long Live The Weekend has ‘radio hit’ written all over it and the likes of We Want More, title track State Of Emergency and first single What’s On Your Radio? have choruses and hooks that should keep mosh pits happy for years to come. All in all, it’s a welcome return for a band who have always been a cut above their snotty skate-punk contemporaries.
Consistency, anyone? Here’s yet another blast of The Living End action that showcases high energy, excellent songwriting from Chris Cheney and the intense musicianship of one of the tightest bands in the land Down Under. Produced by Nick Launay (Silverchair, Midnight Oil) and featuring one of the heaviest riffs on a Living End single, this song is guaranteed to lodge itself in your brain for some time. B-sides ‘Reborn’ and ‘Wrong Side Of The Tracks’ are easily single-worthy on their own.
Considering the frequent excursions of genre with their Modern ARTillery, it’s almost a shock when The Living End return to the straight-ahead rockabilly-ish racer rock of their original MO. What’s On Your Radio, as such, is neither freshly “up yours” as their earlier stuff nor as intriguing (if not entirely successful) as their later work. However, as is generally the case with a TLE song, it’s always a joy to hear Chris Cheney rip into another filigree guitar solo, as he does here. It’s nice to know some things never change.