Sound — 7
"Mature" is a common adjective when describing a band's second album and Tonight Alive's sophomore effort "The Other Side" is no exception. I seem to recall reading an interview which promised a heavier album, and whilst I wouldn't say this is much heavier than their debut, it's definitely darker and much more cohesive as a whole.
The album follows on from and builds off the sound established on "What Are You So Scared Of?" with soft/heavy trade-offs in the verse and chorus with Matt Best's eclectic drumming, occasional lead melodies and tied up with the smooth alto of Jenna McDougall. The guitar parts are more original and cohesive, the songwriting more original and tighter, and the vocals a definite step up. The album marks a shift away from pop-punk and towards modern rock, and also features sparing use of programming, mostly in the form of strings or in one instance a synth shadowing the lead guitar melody. Overall, the album feels more original, tighter, and more polished (if stylistically different) than their debut.
01. "The Ocean" - A relatively strong opening that continues where the last album left off with the exact same structure as every previous Tonight Alive song. The riffs are relatively catchy and the vocals are emotive, making this song a good opener.
02. "Don't Wish" - A step into the style more typical of this album. This song is more reminiscent of modern rock than pop-punk, although structurally it's nothing new. Strings are scattered throughout the bridge and choruses which help compliment the mid-tempo punk-ballad feel of the song.
03. "Lonely Girl" - Some very original lyrics which dismiss a self-pitying, apathetic friend go well with the upbeat modern rock style. The lead guitar melody and chorus are strong points.
04. "Hell and Back" - Starting to step up the game and introduce some new structural ideas. Another outstanding chorus which is refreshingly un-clichéd. The delayed guitar which is scattered throughout really elevates the song, as does Matt Best's rock-solid drumming.
05. "The Other Side" - An album highlight. A reconciliation with an ex-love and a warm look back on a great friendship combined with another excellent chorus and some tasteful riffs make this a winner for me. Another mid-tempo rock song which dispenses with the wearying Tonight Alive structure to great effect.
06: "The Fire" - This song returns to pop-punk territory with some great melodies, a more upbeat tempo, some out-of-the-box drumming, a bridge which features actual riffs rather than block chords and a great vocal performance from Jenna McDougall. A strong effort.
07. "Complexes" - Continuing the string of the album's better songs, "Complexes" extends on the delayed guitar lines with a typically catchy and melodic chorus. Not a highlight, but a good song nonetheless.
08. "Come Home" - Probably one of the weaker songs off the album (and also one of the singles), "Come Home" is hampered by a very 'last-album' style, an unenthusiastic feel and tired riffs which seem to drag on. It's still a decent song, but not noteworthy.
09. "Bathwater" - Another weird song lyrically which is unique to Jenna's experiences, the song continues the vibe of this album with a decent chorus, but it's a mediocre song.
10. "No Different" - 3/4 timing and a really blatant minor key melody, fantastic drumming, tasteful riffs, a fantastic vocal part, a great bridge, good bass parts, catchy lyrics. This song is hard-hitting and fun and I love it. Highlight of the album.
11. "Say Please" - I didn't particularly like this song but it was another round of delayed guitar riffs, more original vocal melodies, a smooth chorus and some emotive lyrics, and overall quite a good song.
12. "You Don't Owe Me Anything" - Some piano, brilliant strings, Best's top-notch drumming, great instrumentals with some more delayed guitar, really noticeable bass, and fantastically apologetic and reconciliatory lyrics with an outstanding vocal performance. Another album highlight for me.
A definite step up on the debut.
Lyrics — 8
Vocally this album is a step up on "WAYSSO?" with much more on show vocally. One by-product of the album's overall sound is that Jenna rarely sounds like she is belting it to the same extend as she did last album, though I'm not sure whether that is down to her performance or the production. The album mostly sits in her midrange and she gives a typically outstanding performance with her trademark smooth and sometimes breathy alto.
Lyrically the album is much, much darker with songs focusing on breaking relationships rather than working ones, illnesses, self-doubt, and other topics of the sort. The break-up songs managed to sidestep the whiney, depressing mood that tends to come attached with those topics and instead opt for feelings of regret and reconciliation. The maturity is evident also in songs like "Lonely Girl," "Bathwater," "The Ocean," "The Other Side," and "No Different. "
Having the backing vocals (provided by Whakaio Taahi and Cam Adler) at an audible level (if intermittently) has really boosted the vocal performances, especially in the choruses, and having their tenor juxtaposed with her higher voice is noticeable where it has been done.
Overall Impression — 8
If like me you were expecting an upbeat, positive pop-punk album you're going to leave disappointed. The album takes on a whole new vibe which is, as I mentioned much more mid-tempo modern-rock based, but rather than detracting from the album I feel like Tonight Alive are coming into their own.
The guitar parts of Jake Hardy and Whakaio Taahi mesh much better than they had previously, with less unison and more individual character between them, and Taahi's delay-drenched lead lines have extended past the limiting box-shapes which were evident on the debut and carry more melodic weight than they did, even if they are still simple. Cam Adler's bass is pleasantly loud in the mix and whilst his parts usually shadow the rhythm guitar, he does a good job of holding down the low end.
Matt Best has always been, for my money, the most talented instrumentalist in the band and this album supports that opinion. Whilst his drum patterns tend to be a little more restricted than on the last album, he still proves himself to be a solid drummer with a bag full of tom fills, deft kick-drum work, syncopation, and a knack for introducing rhythmic variation to help keep the song fresh.
Jenna McDougall's vocals have always been one of the high points of this band and this album really reinforces that with some brilliantly catchy vocal parts, great lyrics and just an outstandingly smooth and pitch-perfect voice. Through her performance on "The Other Side," she has done a fantastic job of stepping out from under the shadow of Paramore's Haley Williams and into her own right as a talented female vocalist.
Tonight Alive's sophomore album is a step forward for them. It's more mature, better written, more original, darker, and really defines their sound as a band.