It’s been almost a week since Tonight Alive released their latest album, Limitless, so I thought it was high time I reviewed it. Who is Tonight Alive? Well, they’re a punk rock band from Australia with a bombass female singer.
I discovered Tonight Alive quite by accident when a friend of mine posted a gif of Jenna McDougall on tumblr. “Who is this?” I asked myself. “A girl in a punk rock band who isn’t Hayley Williams?” I downloaded their 2013 album, Lonely Girl, on iTunes and never looked back. I take on the haters and give you a track-by-track review of Limitless under the jump.
Really though, I listen to this band a lot. A lot. I’m a singer myself, and let’s be real: these days I pretty much exclusively listen to female-fronted works. Jenna’s voice is quite similar to my own (but she’s got touring pipes like crazy; I’m sure I’d blow mine out in one show if I tried what she does), and it’s really fun to sing along with her. As a singer, my favorite album is the acoustic version of “What Are You So Scared Of” because Jenna and Whakaio are amazing on it– I honestly think every band should do full acoustic versions of every album– and generally when I sing along to it I let Jenna take the lead and I do the harmonies. I love harmonies. I LOVE HARMONIES. At any rate, it took me a while to accumulate their entire discography. Recently I had to enlist the help of an Australian friend to help me get a copy of “All Shapes & Disguises,” an EP from 2011, because it was only available on iTunes Australia! I guess that’s what I get for falling in love with a foreign band. But no matter– it’s mine, bought and paid.
This band’s songs cover pretty much every emotion, which is amazing. They’re not all songs about one sad romance, or all songs about hating your mother. There are happy songs and there are sad songs and there are fun songs. If I was going to make an 8-tracks playlist of my last relationship, it would all be Tonight Alive. Seriously, there’s a song for every feeling I can think of. This song was the beginning of my relationship. This song was the end. This song was our first kiss, this was our breakup. And every single one of them has a special place in my heart.
I mentioned my favorite song as a singer… but my favorite song as a human is definitely “Safe & Sound,” off 2012’s “What Are You So Scared Of?” Do yourself a favor and listen to it if you’ve ever been in love. Or are currently.
Anyway, since I’ve pretty much devoured and beaten to death every song they’ve ever written, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this album for a while now. When the announcement was made in like, what, November? that a new album was coming out in MARCH, I didn’t know how I was going to survive. Thank goodness they released four tracks ahead of time to give us something to chew on.
I’ve been reading the comments on their Facebook posts and I am less than thrilled with the reaction of fans. I get it– this album is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. No one is ever going to manage to please everyone. But, as is wont to happen, people are calling them “pop sellouts” and claiming they’ve “lost them as fans” and said they’re never buying another Tonight Alive album. Really, guys? People grow. Songs change. I love this album for what it is. It’s a phenomenal album with a lot of heart, brilliant singing, drums that echo in my brain, and some of the fastest and sharpest guitar playing I’ve heard in a good while. Does it sound like their old albums? I mean, some parts, yes. Overall, no. But it’s hardly as drastic of a turn as Linkin Park took from Meteora to Minutes to Midnight, you know?! And I’ll be damned if they aren’t still selling out arenas sixteen years after their first album and almost ten after the genre shift.
Furthermore? They don’t care. In an interview with news.com.au, regarding the backlash, Jenna said, “‘We knew it was coming. There have been some shocking comments, some laughable but the best are when people say it’s different and confronting and I respect you took the chance. That’s the fan I would like to appeal to,’ she says. ‘We want to create success with this record but it has to be on our terms and it was. I am not going to apologise for that because I love the record for what it is.'”
My point is: go throw yourself in a chilly bin and enjoy the music.
I’m reviewing this with headphones on because I’ve been singing along from day 1 and I really want to hit all the important bits for you. If you don’t listen to your music in a variety of ways (in headphones, a shitty iPod speaker, very loudly in the car, underwater) who even are you?
Track by Track
- To Be Free – This was one of the first tracks to be released as a precursor to the album, and I’ve been in love with it since the moment I laid ears on it. First thing on the album, you’re blasted with Jenna doing these amazing minor harmonies completely by herself. And then the rest of the band kicks in and, look, you’re headbanging. You can’t help it. I think everyone can identify with this song, or at least the way they felt at some point in their life. You don’t want to face anything anymore. Shit’s tough. And don’t take the bridge for granted, either– it wasn’t until my fourth or fifth (or sixth) time that I nailed the “Iamlimitless Iamlimitless” bit. Say that eight times fast? I just did! That’s a tough refrain, my friends.
• Choice lyric: “And I feel like I could fly”
- Oxygen – This song was an early favorite for me. It is so, so beautifully sung. Jenna’s range is seriously magical. She jumps from the earth to the stratosphere in a breath, and I couldn’t believe it until I heard it. The drum and guitar are a bit simpler on this song, but we don’t even care, do we? My favorite part is the stripped-down prechorus before the finale.
• Choice lyric: “Leave the past behind, I have arrived; I will light up the sky if you let me breathe my oxygen”
- Human Interaction – This was the very first preview track they released. The first thing you noticed was, wow, this is different. Not bad different. I feel like the band went through some dark times during the writing of this album. That’s how I’d classify the mood of the album overall: dark, but like they’d clambered out of it with their knuckles bruised and their pride intact. Some of the later songs get into this more, but this was the first impression we got of it. Think of it as a story: this is the beginning. Jenna sings “I will be better” repeatedly on the bridge, which is also a recurring theme on many songs (like To Be Free, for example). The rest of the song she’s trapped, numb, but right in the middle she’s vowing to be better. Or declaring herself as limitless.
• Choice lyric: “Asking please, as colors fade; I need to breathe before I turn the world to grey”
- Drive – I have seen almost nothing but hate for this song and I honestly don’t understand it at all. Okay, the “yeah yeah yeah” and the “no no no” bits are a little corny, but damn, have you actually listened to this song while you’re driving? Cranked it way up, belted the hell out of it? Because this is an AMAZING car song. The driving beat (yeah I’m gonna keep using it), the powerful singing, the lyrics– keep moving forward, bro, you’re almost there. Not every song has to be freaking profound, you guys. That’s pompous and boring. Sometimes you just gotta have a bit of fun.
• Choice lyric: “We’re begging for someone to break the mold, ’cause everybody else has forgot we ever had the choice”
- How Does It Feel? – This song brings us back to the feeling of tracks 1 and 3, like something horribly traumatic has happened but now they’re on the other side. Hindsight is 20/20, right? This song is very heavy-feeling, musically, and Jenna sounds a bit angry, but it makes for a soaring chorus. The bridge sounds like they went into the pool with their guitars and they still worked and just got this amazing sound out of them. The shredding on the way back up to the final pre-chorus is something else, too. Listen carefully or you’ll miss it.
• Choice lyric: “I was caught up in the mystery, you were running from your history”
- Waves – This is absolutely my favorite song on the album. I love the piano on it, simple chords as they are. The background effects complement it wonderfully; no point in drowning out such a beautiful sound. The piano is replaced by drums after the first verse, and then Jenna takes over for a moment– but not for long, as there’s a swelling, almost a literal wave crash as the chorus begins. It’s amazing and I adore it and it’s quickly making its way to the top of my “Most Played” charts. Not to mention the lyrics: your love comes in waves. Have you ever been in a relationship like that? I have, but I’ve never known a band to put words to it before.
• Choice lyric: “I look up to the sky with tears in my eyes and a pain in my chest, beating the life from the only good thing I had left”
- Everywhere – This is a very sad song. It comes off as almost happy, or hopeful, maybe, but once you’ve gotten a chance to listen carefully to all the lyrics… whoa. It’s really sad. I don’t know much about the band’s personal lives– I’m not into that– so I don’t know if this is based on a true story or not (it doesn’t have to be to have meaning), but it sounds like it’s a song to a lover that died. Specifically, committed suicide. But this is a song that has a very disarming quality of getting stuck in my head (we call this insongnia, for what it’s worth). The waterfall vocals into the chorus are gorgeous, and the beat is pulsing and consistent and alive. My only complaint about this song is that the ending feels really abrupt– but you know what? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the life of the person they lost. I can’t even. I’m gonna go cry now.
• Choice lyric: “And all I can hope is that you have found peace; while I journey on, your flame I will carry”
- Power of One – We’ve made it out of the darkness and we’re reflecting on it now. Which, again, I think is a very realistic progression. Some people don’t make it out of the darkness, as we sadly discovered with the last track. Most people do. It does get better. Believe in the power of yourself. Understand that there are good times and bad times, and they’re both important. That goes for everyone, even your role models who look like they have it all.
• Choice lyric: I can be strong and brave, but I have been lost and afraid. I’ve learned you can’t choose, there’s pain in the truth sometimes… but I’ve never learned to lie.”
- I Defy – This song became another quick favorite! The vocals are gorgeous and the beat is fast and tough. I seriously love the drums in this song; the sound is really unique and they’re so isolated in the verses before going back into crash & thrash for the choruses. But the build is really great, and I love the lyrics. We’re continuing our upward trend in mood. I love the almost-record-scratch sounds in the second verse; it’s funny that I mentioned Linkin Park earlier because it’s a sound that definitely reminds me of their early days. And it’s perfectly placed, subtle, but not overtly kitschy.
• Choice lyric: “You liked me pacified, kept me undermined, but I’m waking up now”
- We Are – This song is in a similar vein to Power of One. “They’re not gonna change the world, we are.” I really like the place this band has gone, you guys. Too many songs kick you when you’re down. Here, sob out your sorrows to screaming metal because we can’t get over our breakup, either. But seriously– we need some more power anthems in the world, and TA has just given us a whole bunch of them. Don’t hide, don’t wallow, don’t let the bad things in life keep you from achieving your full potential. You’re going to make mistakes, but like good ol’ Rafiki says, you can either run from it or… learn from it!
• Choice lyric: “If all we are is dust in space, then tell me why I feel this way?” and “The sun can only burn for so long, and we can only learn from where we went wrong.”
- The Greatest – It’s taken me a few listens to figure this one. The whole song it’s just acoustic guitar, vocals, and some very minimal piano and strings; I’m wondering if it was Jenna on everything or not, because it’s a very personal song from her. If we’ve taken the journey along with her on this whole album, this is where it culminates. She’s truly emerged atop it, like Daenerys emerging from the flames in season one a whole new queen with baby dragons on her shoulders. I’ve read some complaints that people think this song is really pompous, and I don’t get that at all. She’s not saying she’s “the greatest” out of everyone; she’s the greatest HER. We are constantly improving ourselves, figuring out who we are and what we want, and let’s face it: sometimes we are not our greatest self. To achieve that, though, is a pretty amazing feeling. It can be fleeting or it can last a lifetime, but we’re always changing and re-inventing our best selves. Don’t ever lose sight of what your heart is telling you.
• Choice lyric: “It takes a lifetime for some to learn what they’re really here for; I consider myself a lucky one, known since the day I was born.”
Album rating: ★★★★★
Cons: Album is not long enough. Rumor is that there’ll be another release later on with some more tracks, so keep your eyes peeled for that to happen!
Tonight Alive are currently touring across the United States with bands Set It Off and The Ready Set (after finishing up a few weeks in Europe)! They’re honestly amazing live (I saw them last year before they went back into the studio to finish up), and let’s be honest, no one really knows about them so the tickets are probably going to be on the cheap end. You should totally go and sing and rock out. Send pics if you do, I’d love to see them!