It’s always sad when a once-promising band falls short of our expectations. In some ways, this kind of a letdown is worse than a band that was always bad, because we expect so much more from a group that we like. We’ve all heard the cry of “Sellout!” before — usually directed at formerly principled punk bands who sign to major labels and subsequently start adding rap into the mix and singing about being “pretty fly for a white guy.”
Thankfully, the Living End’s new album doesn’t open with a plea of “give it to me baby,” but it is nevertheless a disappointment and — dare I say it? — a sellout of sorts. Not that you’d tell from the lyrics; the Living End is still singing about the same social issues they ranted about on their breakout self-titled debut. The differences from that exceptional album are much more subtle.
Perhaps the most conspicuous ingredient this album is lacking is passion. The Living End was a tremendously impassioned effort, particularly for such a young band. But here, the band seems like they’re phoning these songs in; tracks like “Staring At The Light” and “Roll On” are mere mockeries of the far superior tunes on the group’s full-length debut and their two early EPs.
On Roll On, the Living End has moved away from their punk roots, and the music on this album is more influenced by fellow Australians AC/DC than by the Sex Pistols. The heavy metal riffs and turpid pace of “Don’t Shut The Gates,” “Astoria Paranoia,” and “Silent Victory” are more arena rock than punk.
It also seems as though vocalist Chris Cheney has toned down his distinctive Johnny Lydon-ish snarl in favor of a more standard radio-friendly shout that isn’t nearly as effective at delivering his bitterly satiric lyrics.
Fortunately for fans of the band’s earlier work, the album picks up somewhat on its second half. “Killing The Right” is a Clash-inspired rocker with an understated horn section and powerful punk/ska guitars. “Dirty Man” manages a balance between poppy melodies and sneering punk energy missing from the rest of the album.
But “Blood On Your Hands” is the best one here — a slower track with some cool start-stop guitar and a heavy reliance on Scott Owen’s standup bass at the start, before building up to a more propulsive climax. Listening to this track reminded me instantly of everything that was wrong with the rest of the album. Where the rest of the tracks had buried Owen’s taut, accomplished basslines under layers of sludge and muck, this song only was cleanly produced and nicely showcased all the individual instruments.
Overall, Roll On is a hit-or-miss affair with a lot more misses than hits. Hopefully, this is just a temporary sophomore slump, and the Living End will soon return with an effort just as impressive as their debut. But for the moment, I can’t help but think that this band isn’t so fly — even for white guys.
Archived article by Ed Howard