Compare a female-fronted rock band to Paramore and you hear things like “that’s such a cliché” and “it’s 2016, can we just accept that Hayley Williams isn’t the only girl in rock?!”. While that may well be true, it can’t be denied that Tonight Alive’s stratospheric rise does certainly follow in the Tennesseans footsteps. They’re been the fresh-faced ones to watch and had a widely acclaimed, possibly classic album with The Other Side. Now, à la Paramore’s self-titled album, they’ve graduated from their pop punk roots and headed into a sonically different direction with third album Limitless.
Whatever you were expecting from this album, turn it on its head. That’s exactly what Tonight Alive have done, practically eliminating almost every bit of bite they had. The likes of Oxygen and Waves illustrate this nicely. Both soaring ballads with a complete lack of electric guitars, they have nowhere near the amount of punch anything by the Tonight Alive of old did. Even tracks that are clearly intended to spice up the album like How Does It Feel? just don’t have the pizzazz expected. Honestly, the whole record just seems to lack a backbone, with dreamy synths and an overreliance on acoustic guitars pushed right to the fore.
It’s not a complete departure, though. I Defy is a glorious middle finger to naysayers in song form. The pure pop sparkle of Drive is a great pick-me-up, with its catchy, ska-tinged “yeah yeah yeah yeah, no no no no” hook a more than welcome reminder of the happy, smiley Tonight Alive found on What Are You So Scared Of? and Consider This. Opener To Be Free was clearly written with stadiums in mind too, and sci-fi vocal effects give it a weirdly futuristic vibe. Of course, Jenna McDougall’s vocals take centre stage. It’s a flawless performance on her part, and there seems to be more strength and conviction behind it than ever before.
Something most beloved by Tonight Alive’s fans is the searing honesty of their lyrics. It was pain and heartbreak that fuelled The Other Side, but here that’s completely gone. In its place lie empowering lyrics about being yourself, not giving in and being, well, limitless, but most of the time this has a more detrimental effect on the record. It massively contributes to the overall blandness of Limitless, and lines like “I am the only one to create my destiny” will just induce eyerolls from anyone over the age of 17. Lyrically, it’s mostly pretentious life coaching that has a negative impact on listeners, if there is an impact at all, that is.
Coming full circle to that Paramore comparison, it seems that Tonight Alive have a long way to go if they want to hit the heights their American counterparts have. While Paramore have matured into the fun aunt always lifting people’s spirits, Tonight Alive have turned themselves into the boring next door neighbour who pops round every so often – just there with not much to offer. While there’s a few moments of personality shining through, Limitless ultimately limits the Sydney quartet having stripped them of particularly relatable or memorable characteristics musically, which shone through blindingly on The Other Side. I’m not saying Tonight Alive would fare better being sad all the time, but it’d probably produce more interesting material than Limitless.
For fans of: Paramore, Thirty Seconds To Mars, PVRIS
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Limitless’ by Tonight Alive is out now on Easy Life / Sony Red.