"You’ve got to admire a band who’ll risk it all in the name of creative freedom."
Back in 2013, ‘The Other Side' captured Tonight Alive at their lowest ebb. Worn down by heartache, disorientation and self-doubt, the Sydney five-piece found themselves with two choices: to come out fighting with everything they had, or to step back and let their dreams gather dust.
As third album ‘Limitless’ arrives, their situation could hardly be more different. Following the global success of that make-or-break album, they boast one of the most devoted – and fastest growing – followings in our world. They’ve conquered Warped Tour, played sold-out shows across three continents and gained the confidence to challenge their listeners’ perceptions in the process. It would take something pretty dramatic to derail them now.
Even so, ‘Limitless’ is a remarkably brave piece of work. Taking a wrecking ball to their pop-punk roots and moving on, TA have embraced electronics, soaring arena-rock and a ’90s pop sensibility only hinted at on previous records. At times they sound like an entirely different band, with Jenna McDougall’s powerhouse vocals front and centre.
Though the cinematic synths and eerily robotic vocal effects of opener ‘To Be Free’ have already ruffled feathers online, it’s actually one of the most familiar-sounding songs here. With producer David Bendeth (All Time Low, Paramore) opting for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, it’s hard not to be taken in by the wall of sound – Whakaio Taahi and Jake Hardy’s guitars providing some much-needed punch.
Before long, though, ‘Oxygen’ whips the carpet from under the listener’s feet. It represents a complete departure for the band, a patchwork of acoustic guitars and lush keyboards that might find a natural home on a ‘Chillout Classics’ compilation instead of, say, a Tony Hawk’s videogame soundtrack. When Jenna sings “Rules are made for us to break / Chances meant for us to take,” she obviously means it.
There are plenty more surprises in store. From the ultra-slick pop hooks of ‘Drive’ (all together now: “yeah yeah yeah yeah, no no no no…”) to the soul-searching ‘Human Interaction’ and air-punching power-ballad crescendos of ‘Everywhere’, these 11 songs tear across the emotional spectrum.
At best, it’s genuinely moving stuff. At worst, the sentiment feels rather heavy-handed. ‘How Does It Feel?’ delivers an adrenalin-fuelled high point – bringing together those newfound electronic leanings and a brooding spin on the ‘The Other Side’ template – while ‘I Defy’ balances skyscraping choruses with an injection of angst. But for every song that evokes prior glories, there are two that explore new ground.
Though that’s no bad thing in itself, the bangers-to-ballads ratio could be better, and a number of songs feel short on urgency.
With themes of self-discovery and infinite possibility cropping up throughout, it’s clear that Tonight Alive are relishing their leap of faith. It’s anyone’s guess how many fans will be willing to follow suit, but you’ve got to admire a band who’ll risk it all in the name of creative freedom. If they succeed in courting mainstream tastes and fans stay on board, their potential still seems… well, limitless.
'Limitless' is out on March 04 via Easy Life / Sony Red.