The Living End are a prolific band. They have released an album, on average, every two years since their hugely successful self-titled debut in 1998, despite all the ups and downs life has thrown at them -- including frontman Chris Cheney’s involvement in a serious car crash in 2001. However, in 2006, while touring in support of State of Emergency, cracks finally appeared on the wall and Cheney allegedly left the band for a short period, claiming he was burnt out. It is now 2008, and Cheney’s lack of enthusiasm has been rekindled with White Noise, the Living End’s fifth studio album, one that screams ‘band in transition.'
Opener "How Do We Know?" is where it all starts -- a heavy riff not a million miles away from something you’d expect to hear roaring from one of Angus Young’s Marshalls -- with Cheney stating in a recent interview that “the record kind of evolved from this song.” "How Do We Know?" still sounds like the Living End -- there is the trademark backing vocals of Scott Owen, the ripping solo from Cheney and the solid, powerhouse drumming of Strachan -- but it just feels different.
The tone set by the aforementioned opener, though, does not immediately follow, and while "Raise the Alarm," "White Noise" and "Moment in the Sun" are solid as stand-alone tracks, they are at odds with Cheney’s description of the album as “different than what we’ve done before” -- indeed, these songs would not have been out of place on the band's previous effort, State of Emergency. What is different about this release is less its “heaviness” and more its experimentation. It marks the first time that Cheney has been comfortable experimenting with the Living End’s sound. Sure, he has still stuck in many ways to the songwriting formula that has worked so well for him over the last decade or so; however, and most importantly, he has chosen not to change this formula as such, but instead he has allowed himself to add to it, to tamper with it.
The results are not groundbreaking, but they are enjoyable. Small details such as the added strings on "Waiting for the Silence" serve well and while much has been made of the band's supposed ‘darker turn’ towards the world of rock’n’roll, the moments of darkness are few and far between, with "Make the Call" being the most notable example of what can only be described as a five-minute long, heavy metal-induced panic attack -- with a verse riff that would make James Hetfield proud.
Cheney has always been reknowned for his outstanding songwriting abilities and musicianship as opposed to his insightful lyrics and rightly so. He is clearly a man who focuses most of his creative energy on the composition of the music, with lyrics often taking a backseat. Unfortunately, sometimes this can result in tragedy, and it must be marked in history that Cheney has outdone himself with the cringe-inducing lyrics of the bizarre retrospective "21st Century," which is undoubtably the weakest song on the album: "George Bush / The bikini wax / Below the belt / Hide the facts… Global warming just ain't cool / Too much chlorine in the gene pool."
Despite this grim moment, the album shines on, as with the Living End for every low there is a high, and to counter-act the lyrical stagnancy of "21st Century," Cheney shows his absolute best with the brilliant "Loaded Gun" -- which contains a narrative that touches on issues of life, death, crime and punishment -- along with the philosophical "Sum of Us," an outstandingly perfect ska-infused song that showcases Cheney’s exceptional vocal ability -- a perfect choice for album closer, which, echoing the sentiment of Orwell's Animal Farm, has Cheney singing “some of us have more rights than the others.”
What is different about this record is not that it is overwhelmingly unlike anything the band have produced before; White Noise is not a Sandinista! or a Life Won't Wait -- rather, that it has a different feel. There is an air of change that can be detected in the relatively conservative degree of musical experimentation (listen out for the glockenspiel!) together with an excitement in the tone of Cheney’s voice when he speaks of the music in interviews. This excitement is also present in the renewed enthusiasm of a band that had so clearly become bored of the relentless and banal routines that come with the perks of professional musicianship. It may not be until their next release that the significance of White Noise will become apparent, so write it in your diary; if averages are anything to go by, it should be released some time in 2010.
[The album was released July 19 in the band's homeland of Australia; no North American release date has yet been announced.]