Sound — 5
Whether the arguable assessment of Tonight Alive being the Australian response to Paramore might be what turns people on or off about the band, their presence fit right into the pop punk world quick and easy. With their debut album, "What Are You So Scared Of?," first coming out only in Australia in 2011, frontwoman Jenna McDougall's performances with other tenured pop punk acts (Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, and most notably, her pop punk duet with Mark Hoppus) spring-boarded the band into international recognition, poising the album for an international release a year later, as well as Tonight Alive earning a spot in Vans Warped Tour that same year. Their momentum only grew stronger afterwards, where their follow-up album, 2013's "The Other Side," garnered exuberant reception from both critics and listeners alike. They may have still been deriving from Paramore's style, but like All Time Low echoing Fall Out Boy, they proved to be a good emulation of such.
In the wake of that success, however, Tonight Alive now move on from that root sound and attempt to cross over into a pop sound, heard in their third album, "Limitless." Given the few poppier-produced songs that have appeared in their previous two albums, this transition isn't all that surprising, but with this being their leap of faith into full-fledged pop territory, their effort is very heavy-handed and devoid of nuance. This is mainly caused by the band reconfiguring their sonic hierarchy where glitzy production value is placed above everything else, which can be heard in McDougall's overly-processed vocals in "To Be Free," saccharine canned strings used in the ending acoustic ballad of "The Greatest," the ambitious arrangement that bottlenecks itself at its ending crest of "Human Interaction," and shameless bombast of arena rock via excessive synth backing of "How Does It Feel" and "I Defy."
Along with that, "Limitless" also shows Tonight Alive emulating the likes of other pop acts. "Everywhere" takes a page from Coldplay (especially with the opening piano melody sounding like "Speed of Sound"), the murmuring vocals in the bridge of "To Be Free" comes off similar to AWOLNATION's murmuring in last year's hit "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)," and the lighter-waving pop ballad of "Waves" has McDougall putting on her best Celine Dion impression. But despite that last criticism, it's undeniable that the most impressive part of the album is McDougall's growth as a vocalist, heard especially in "Oxygen" and "Human Interaction."
Lyrics — 5
With Tonight Alive's previous two albums, McDougall has shown an arc of growing from someone reverent and dedicated towards her relationships and her willingness to endure whatever hardships may come (in "What Are You So Scared Of?"), to being more discerning and relying less on the comfort of love if it's too toxic (in "The Other Side"). McDougall continues this arc in "Limitless," where the main theme found throughout is her heightened desire of attaining an all-encompassing sense of independence and freedom. Of course, this continues to regard the facet of breaking away from constraining relationships, heard in "How Does It Feel" ("Built your walls up around me / Now they're closing in / Let me go..."), "I Defy" ("You think you own me / But you'll never take the best of me"), and "Waves" (which unambitiously rinse/repeats the same symbolisms of water and drowning heard in the previous album's "Oceans" and "Bathwater"). But McDougall applies this in a general sense as well, which, combined with the album's sound taking a strong turn into pop territory, shakes out to be a meek offering of motivational lyrics; whether it's the appeal to self-liberation in "To Be Free" ("I don't wanna be found / I just wanna be free") and "Oxygen" ("Rules were meant for us to break / Chances meant for us to take"), asserting courage in "Power of One" ("I will love like I've never been broken / Take a risk, I'm not ashamed"), or rousing the next generation to make the changes they want to see in the world in "We Are" ("But they're not gonna change the world, we are / They're not gonna save the world, we are").
Overall Impression — 4
The crossover pilgrimage from emo/pop punk into stark pop territory is one that's been trendy lately (from All Time Low to Sleeping With Sirens), but it's nevertheless a make-it-or-break-it transition that requires appropriate discernment. For Tonight Alive, their approach to this transition is to go larger than life; attempting to convey the idea that "Limitless" is better than the band's previous work simply due to how extravagant it tries to sound. But like that strategy, the output of "Limitless" is obtuse, and by being overly dependent on employing pop song clichés and emulating well-established pop acts, the band fail to captivate with this big change.