Review Summary: Tonight Alive target the world… With a little help from Mark Trombino.
Having released a duo of solid EPs and extensively toured supporting a wide range of international acts, the time was right for promising Sydney quintet Tonight Alive to record their debut full-length release. Considering the dearth of mainstream success amongst local pop-punk acts in Australia, it was no surprise to see ‘What Are You So Scared Of?’ released to little fanfare in October 2011. For this reason, it was somewhat predictable that the album would target the overseas market, and a succession of events has already deemed the venture a success. The band signed with California’s Fearless Records in November, toured the U.K with Young Guns in February and have upcoming U.S shows with Go Radio and the Warped Tour. Arguably the largest factor in contributing to all of this however was the teaming with veteran producer Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182), who has added the necessary nous and expertise to the band’s inherent strengths, to allow for an official American release on Valentine’s Day 2012.
Case in point is the ninety second orchestral opener, which effectively builds up a sense of anticipation into the soaring guitar and pounding drums of third single ‘Breaking & Entering’, before the music parts like a theatre show’s curtain for the captivating voice of Jenna McDougall. The main reason for the ever-present Paramore comparisons, the young, affable and seemingly ever-smiling singer is once more the star of the Tonight Alive show, displaying her extensive vocal range while also cleaning up the occasional pitch problems which were previously evident. Backing the blond bombshell is a proficient – if not overly technical or original - foursome of musicians, whose apparent wide range of influences does bring about some much-welcome – if often too subtle – variety to the pop-punk template. There’s a touch of post-hardcore here, some hard-rock there, and everything always remains as accessible as a radio-friendly pop-rock act.
From infectious lead single ‘Starlight’ to EP holdovers ‘To Die For’ and ‘Thank You & Goodnight’, Tonight Alive work best when the tempo is kept brisk. Surely a future single, the easily recitable flow of the latter features a phoned-in verse from Blink 182s Mark Hoppus, a fact which should assist their worldwide prominence. There is, however, one exception to the up-tempo rule: ‘Amelia’, a heart-wrenching tune dedicated to a childhood friend who died in a skiing accident. From the poignant lyrics to the intensifying music, the emotion really shines through here, and it’s a natural balance which the band occasionally struggle to find elsewhere in an attempt to please as many parties as possible. Awkward – if crowd-pleasing – bridges hamper the otherwise solid aggressive tunes ‘Sure As Hell’ and ‘Fake It’, while ‘Safe & Sound’ is a formulaic strings-infused ballad which disappoints. Containing 14 tracks, the album is ultimately overlong, with ‘In The First Place’ especially standing out as filler since it shares a melody with earlier song ‘Listening’.
When one thinks about it, many of the aforementioned flaws are inherent in even an above-average pop-punk outfit, let alone a young band recording their debut LP. Producer Trombino has undoubtedly assisted in smoothing out such deficiencies to result in a release which is eminently enjoyable, catchy and never short on memorable hooks… Even if he often disconcertingly pushes the commercial aspirations of ‘What Are You So Scared Of?’ to the fore, for the sake of immediacy. More interesting will be the direction Tonight Alive take in the future. Will they opt for a poppier chart-baiting sound, or simply continue to mature their rockier leanings and steadily branch away from the pop-punk genre? Either course has its own risk vs. reward, but if this scribe was to pontificate, it could be the deceptively well-crafted closing title track (as well as second single ‘Let It Land’) which could be the best indication… Mid-tempo, world-ruling fare which Tonight Alive may just be talented and grounded enough to pull off without selling their souls.
Recommended Tracks: Amelia, Thank You and Goodnight, Starlight & To Die For.