The Living End
Yeah! Anthemic punk rock just doesn’t get much better than this! In the tradition of bands from The Clash to Rancid to Dropkick Murphys, the Australian trio known as The Living End play a fists-in-the-air, shout-along brand of punk rock that only a very few bands can do — oh, there are plenty of bands that try it, but it takes a truly special band to do it without looking pathetic. One reason the aforementioned bands stand out from the crowd is their ability to do something really original with the formula. The Clash, of course, birthed it, and brought reggae influences into the mix. Rancid brought in more ska and hardcore influences, while the Dropkicks bring their own inimitable Irish flavor to the party. The Living End, too, bring in their own unique take. Most obvious is the heavy rockabilly influence that’s apparent on almost every track on Roll On. This is best exhibited by bassist Scott Owen’s choice to play an upright rather than an electric, which alone helps bring a rockabilly feel, when it’s done right. And Owen knows how to do it, slapping the strings with equal parts skill and abandon. Likewise, Chris Cheney offers a few nice rockabilly guitar flourishes, but the best thing he brings to the table is his voice, just slightly betraying his Aussie accent and adding just a touch of sneer in the process, and drummer Travis Demsey puts the bow on the package with his driving, powerful percussion.
All that would mean squat, though, if these boys didn’t have the songs to match up to their formidable chops. And they do have the songs, most emphatically. From the opening notes of the lead (and title) track, you know you’re in for a rollicking ride. Aside from being eminently capable of the good old fashioned shout-along, and the aforementioned rockabilly influence, the band deftly mixes up many different styles into their sound. For example, “Pictures in the Mirror” seems to owe almost as much to The Who and The Jam as it does The Clash, combing an angular feel with some “Who Are You?”-style whoo-whoos. “Riot On Broadway” probably could have made it on early-’80s MTV, combining punk muscle with post-punk atmospheric flourishes, while “Staring at the Light” brings to mind a beefier early Police. Further exploring the punk end of the spectrum, “Blood On Your Hands” and “Killing The Right” most evidently display the band’s Clash influence, the former with heavy reggae influences, the latter with a buoyant guitar riff that recalls The Clash’s “London Calling” without lavishly imitating it. In short, the music is smart, diverse, and impressive.
What’s more impressive is that the songs aren’t meaningless. To the contrary, a lot of the lyrics are pretty political — again, like The Clash, The Living End aren’t afraid to sing about issues and injustice. For example, “Roll On” is about labor struggles in Melbourne (no, not the one Ink 19 is based in), while songs like “Riot On Broadway” and “Revolution Regained” preach revolutionary fervor. It’s easy to get caught up in the anthemic excitement of the tunes, and its exactly that element that ensures the band gets its message across, since this way, the message never seems like dull rhetoric (as so much political music can). That’s not to say that the band is above a fun beer hall shout-along — see “Uncle Henry” — but more often than not, this is a band with something to say, a phenomenon that’s all too uncommon in today’s punk rock.
The CD also includes two videos, for “Pictures in the Mirror” and “Prisoner Of Society.” They’re fairly straightforward clips, but they looked, sounded, and played great on my iMac, even at full screen (something that’s not always true of these CD-ROM thingys). Package says it works on PCs, too, but I haven’t had opportunity to test that.
If you’re a fan of Rancid, The Clash, or the Dropkicks, or just great punk rock, you owe it to yourself to check this record out. Roll On gets my highest recommendation. It’s that good.
Reprise Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694; The Living End, PO Box 2113, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia; http://www.thelivingend.com.au