Artist: Tonight Alive
Album: What Are You So Scared Of?
It’s all about the Antipodes for me this week. Australia’s Tonight Alive have a brazen youthful energy that courses freely through their album, a very carefree and precocious take on the pop-punk genre. They have lots of aim and intent and do their best, though the record is mired somewhat by an over-reliance on the same formula. The songs are good but don’t stand particularly apart from each other, meaning the album starts off well but loses some appeal as it progresses. That said, it’s sunny and eager and much more likeable than most.
The introductory track is easily my favorite, simply because it goes for a lush cinematic entr’acte. “Eject, Eject, Eject” uses dramatic strings and orchestral tones to build up a tragic, foreboding atmosphere that dreams a little too big for the rest of the album. Something about the air reminds me of the theme from [the original] Batman, which is good. I like this.
“Breaking and Entering” picks up right where this leaves off, following the same notes but injecting guitars to make it more conventionally rousing and thorough. The harmony gives it a kind of conscientious undertone, with a good steely chorus ramping up the volume after pensive verses. There’s a good bass line and pleasing instrumentation for kicks. “Starlight” is a pleasing and energetic romp. The verses are more fixated and imaginative and there’s a veritable explosion of instruments during the chorus, with some wistful twinkling keys illuminating the latter half of the track. “Sure As Hell” is catchy as hell (if you’ll pardon that), bombing through at breakneck speed with a solid sense of adventure and lots of free-spirited flourishes. The second half in particular impresses, slowing momentum a little and building plenty of rhythm. “Let It Land” completes this first half crescendo, aiming (though not quite succeeding) for a more visceral quality and managing a concentrated, catchy rhythm.
It is, however, around this point that weariness with some of the songs begins to manifest. There’s nothing technically wrong with them, but they do seem to blend a little too closely together so that the latter half effectively feels like a recycled version of the first. “Thank You and Goodnight,” “In the First Place,” and “Reason to Sing” saunter by leaving barely a mark, though some of the other tracks are more successful.
“Fake It” for instance lays on in the attitude in its opening montage and manages to sound quite menacing and provocative. It’s catchier and more alluring than many of the other songs, highlighting some strengths with the boisterous solos and rampaging guitars. The vocals can unfortunately be at fault sometimes however – not just here but throughout. Jenna McDougall sounds lovely and sunny, but I would have liked to hear a little more imagination at times, thereby giving the songs some added panache.
“Listening” is heavy and forceful, with lots of breakdowns and a gripping, intensive chorus. “Safe and Sound” is also catchy and makes ample use of its keys and strings, something which does set it slightly apart from the uniform mould. There are lots of feelings on show and it feels a bit strained and cringe-worthy at times, but the sentiment is nice. “Amelia” is a poignant affair as well, using delicate guitars and a restrained bass. The band go amiss on this one however, starting off well but imploding with the musical brigade that follows. This kills the delicacy in the atmosphere and feels way too harsh, though it does resurrect the strings from the opening track in a diligent manner.
The final track is the title one, “What Are You So Scared Of?” It dreams big and has a fine, reaching chorus laden with musical swells. The song itself is no deviation from the mould, but it does have a neatly vivid ending that emulates the theatrical swells with which the album began. It’s an earnest ending, even if it is too long in coming.
Essentially then, this is a noble and very enjoyable release. Its clear sense of fun and playful theatrics bring something fresh to the genre and many of the songs are infectiously catchy. It does take some beating from its unwillingness to experiment but it might be a little much to expect same from a relatively new band, so this acts as a pleasing first step for a band with plenty of potential.
Review written by Grace Duffy