Review Summary: An absolute 180.
Consider this: it is important that the name of a work of art must be somewhat related to what it portrays. Often this consideration translates into the artist looking at what he wants his work to convey, then thinking of a title that guides the audience towards that concept. Sometimes works are intentionally titled in a manner that has absolutely nothing to do with its contents, either as a humorous tongue-in-cheek (FOB, anyone?) or in an effort to let the work speak for itself (see multitude of songs named “Untitled”). Either way, as means to an end which should ideally be conveyed by the work itself, the above 2 are all well and good, if not at times slightly misconstrued. The 3rd outcome of said Consideration is alot rarer and perhaps the most interesting: when a work of art is named simply after what it cannot help but convey, regardless of the artists original intentions. At best, this occurs in an artist who only realized the source of inspiration for his work after it is finished, because it poured out of him so fast and so instinctively that there was simply no need to stop and think. Of such albums, Specter's Enjoy it While it Lasts
and Maroon 5's Songs About Jane
come to mind, as does Tonight Alive's sophomore release, The Other Side
The Other Side
is the aptly named thematic opposite of the Aussie quintet's first release. The band has gone through a strange devolution of sorts; where most pop-punk bands grow more accessible with time, Tonight Alive seem to have retreated into themselves. Gone are their crowd-centric “everybody jump, everybody scream”
lines - their focus has shifted to a more calculated approach at taking themselves very seriously. Its an ambitious move in the genre of pop-punk, but although the severity of their new aesthetic is a tad dour at times, on the whole the outcome is credible - if it could be said to be anything besides entirely shocking.
Tonight Alive's second release is a solemn outing, equal parts pragmatism and pessimism, regret and self-doubt, and at times it sounds like life has slapped Jenna and her crew right smack on the face. Take Lonely Girl
as an introduction to this concept: its sounds harsh and overly-critical, and the energy that had that once thrown caution to the wind is, in fact, used here to condemn with just as much insistence. Now that just comes across as mean, until you consider the possibility that Jenna may be singing about herself
- after which the track plays like an anthem of inadequacy.
It's alarming how Tonight Alive have banished the bravado of their past, especially when it leaves them standing in blatant contradiction to their earlier proclamations. Where once our attention was demanded in the electrifying “Listening”, You Don't Owe Me Anything
sees Jenna drop her unapologetic tone for an outright confession of the fact that she needs help and that no one is obliged to give it. Similarly, the T-Swift-esque title track The Other Side
is a simple, heartfelt track so steeped in loss and regret that it's unfathomable that this very same band once penned “Thank You & Goodnight” with such reckless abandon. This change of tone is practically highlighted by the band themselves - tracks like No Different
and Say Please
have Jenna confessing thoughts like “it's not like me to be so down.”
and “I’m not how I used to be”
. It initially comes across as unfortunate and a tad unattractive, this almost self-loathing weakness, but at least its honest; and after you get over the disappointing idea that everything Tonight Alive once stood for may have been nothing but a facade, what remains is a voice that now rings clearly with sincerity instead of bluster.
Its a relief to note, however, that while their sentiments differ drastically, Tonight Alive has somehow managed to put the same about of enthusiasm into their laments as they once had in their exuberance. The band's sound as a whole remains largely unchanged, and while The Other Side
sees Jenna and crew take on a more alternative sound, their punk roots are still very much there, alive and kicking. The fusion of carefully crafted melodies and motifs with what is left of their inherent panache leaves the band a more cohesive unit now than ever before. With a certain delicacy replacing her earlier aggressive self-assertion, Jenna sings more and yells less, making her a much better team player this time round. This is evident when the band plays through carefully crafted moments like in Complexes
, where muscular riffs provide cover when necessary, allowing Jenna's soaring vocals in the choruses and bridge to intertwine perfectly with melodic guitar lines, a marriage of one of her stronger performances and a decent blend of alt-rock goodness. The album's only obvious weakness lies in it's lyrics – Tonight Alive are better musicians than writers, and this is evident in tracks like Bathwater
, one of the solid epics of the album which really suffers for it's cringe-worthy subject matter. The is real emotion in their music here and it should be taken seriously, but the imagery that accompanies it just doesn't quite match up.
For anyone who's ever appreciated the loud, rambunctious side of Tonight Alive, this abrupt change in pace may seem uncomfortable and quite disappointing. Above everything else, The Other Side
sits in the shadow of an “emotional weight”, as described by guitarist Whakaio Taahi, that looms over all it's tracks. It's as if somethings taken the vim and vigour of a youthful band and just crushed it, and the fact that this subject is never mentioned explicity really makes the album a tad frustrating. The Other Side
is a dark, broody, emotionally perplexing second release, but is nevertheless an interesting addition to Tonight Alive's body of work, and, all else said, has been quite a game-changer for a band that up till now was in real danger of becoming predictable.