Album Review: Underworld by Tonight Alive

by will sexton (@willshesleeps)rating 7

A band that has gone through some style changes over the course of their career, from pop-punk to pop to alternative-rock, Australian act Tonight Alive have sprung back onto the scene with the new album Underworld. Does it does succeed to please, especially fans of their older sound? Or have they lost track of what they’re going for?

Yes and no – Underworld is another push into Tonight Alive finding their own sound. After establishing themselves as a pop-punk from their first couple of releases, it really feels like the band has finally found something to call theirs. This album sounds more confident and is, on the whole, a more solid release which is evident from the album opener Book of Love. Explosive, it sets a real tone for the rest of the record, with punchy guitars and an underlining electronic feel with synths and other electronic noise coming from deeper in the mix.

Lyrics have always been the forefront of Tonight Alive and something that Jenna McDougall has always prided herself with, allowing a great deal of transparency to be shown via her words and managing to express both the distresses and triumphs in her life. The song Temple (the first single from the Underworld) is a good example of this where McDougall is singing about her “body being a temple” and the idea of being out-of-control with her life, but being able to come back from it. It’s this honesty that allows the band to come off as more well-meaning than artificial.

Something that Underworld does quite well is keeping the energy up throughout. The emotional imagery from the lyrics is well accompanied by the bright instrumentation. Songs like For You, Burning On and My Underworld (which has an interesting feature from  Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour fame) exemplify this and really show that Tonight Alive can be affectionate with their delivery without losing the audience’s attention. McDougall brings that energy down fully however on the song Looking For Heaven, where she’s given the opportunity to show off her impressive pipes, whether it’s in front of a full band, or in this case, just a piano.

Tonight Alive aren’t alone in the transformation from pop-punk and trying to broaden their horizons; bands like The Wonder Years and You Me At Six have also made the transition from pop-punk to alternative rock very successfully. Pop-punk is considered quite a restricted genre and it’s nice to hear bands who have found a sound they work well with and develop it, exactly as Tonight Alive do on this album. Female fronted pop-punk/alt-rock bands have always had a problem with constantly being compared to Paramore, an act who have themselves evolved into something more than their origins, so to see Tonight Alive continue the trend is refreshing.

Most of the songs are quite predictable in nature but a couple of the tracks on the album surprise you, whether because of an interesting drum pattern or new instrument tone/instrument. If there’s one major downfall of this album, however, it’s the predictability. The lyrical content is rich and the mixing is much better on this album but you can guess where Underworld is going to go next. The Corey Taylor feature on the last track is a nice addition but doesn’t add too much to the track other than a male voice and harmony, and with his name on the track, you presume it would come with some power but it’s sold short.

Despite this, Underworld is still an all-around strong effort: Jenna’s vocals are always a pleasure to hear and sound better than ever. There are some exceptional tracks to be found on here like Disappear (featuring Lyn Gunn from PVRIS fame), Crack My Heart and The Other which will hopefully be added to their performances as they would sound excellent in the rawness of a live show. It’s a very cohesive album and the style is very well grounded and translated well across all the tracks, even if the journey itself doesn’t majorly surprise you.

All in all, Underworld is definitely worth a listen if you’re into alternative-rock. You can hear that lead singles from the albums such as Temple will become big anthems for fans of the band. It’s a strong start to the year and hopefully the start of some more excellent music in 2018.