At the risk of betraying my age, I remember when the Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society double A-side was first released, and the excitement that surrounded the emergence of The Living End, with their energetic rockabilly-punk sound, onto the national stage in Australia. Now, I must confess to never having been much of a fan of the band beyond those breakthrough songs, though I was happy for their growing popularity and to have been there for the beginning, but their distinctive sound did hold a fond place in my memories, so I was very surprised to discover that the trio’s seventh album, Shift, has shifted the sound almost completely into straight up and down alternative-rock.
It is natural for a band’s sound to develop and morph over the years, and The Living End have been moving in this direction for a while now, but the debates have already begun over whether this change is a mellowing or maturing of the group’s music. Guitarist and vocalist, Chris Cheney, has made it clear which side of that argument he comes down on, challenging “anyone to come to a show of ours now and say it’s in any way mellowed or watered down from what we once were”, and Shift has been pitched as an angry, aggressive, album. To be honest I’m not feeling it and, for my money, 2011’s The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating better conveys a sense of anger.
One Step opens Shift with a punkish 2 minute burst of scraping guitar tones and yelling that is entertaining enough – but lacks a sense of substantiality – which sets-up the one-two punch of Monkey and Death, a pair of songs which give off a Foo Fighters-esque vibe which is sure to divide fans further. It is hard to imagine lead single, Keep On Running, truly exciting listeners and, if the band was focused on providing something a little different, the spacious composition of With Enemies Like That, which also features Cheney extending his vocal style, probably would have made a better choice.
It is interesting that Shift was produced by the band’s live engineer, Woody Annison, as you would think that if anyone would be positioned to translate The Living End’s live presence to a recording it would be him, yet Shift comes across as a little too thought out, lacking the spontaneity that conveys the baser emotions. Cheney believes that The Living End “are so much more of a powerful rock band now than we ever were on our first couple of records. The songs, yeah, maybe they’re less complicated compared to the Roll On era, but they’re better songs, more focused”, and perhaps posterity will bear him out on that point. But, for the here and now, it doesn’t feel like it.