Maturity: a word that gives nightmares to many a music fan, particularly lovers of pop-punk. In the case of Australian quintet Tonight Alive, however, you need not worry. The progression on their new sophomore album The Other Side is everything fans could have hoped for and more. Largely forgoing the standard pop-punk stylings of their debut in favor of a heavier pop-rock sound, the band has improved its craft in every way. The production is crisper, guitarists Whakaio Taahi and Jake Hardy have stepped up their game, and frontwoman Jenna McDougall delivers the finest performances of her career so far. Catchy, memorable and meaningful, The Other Side is a devastating combination of pop-rock and (at times) alternative rock that is a joy to listen to from start to finish.
The opening guitar riffs of “The Ocean” immediately set the tone for what’s to come, showcasing the group’s expanded sound as well as McDougall’s range as she shows off her lower tones in the verses but reaches sky-high in the bridge. It’s the perfect choice as the opener, as it’s very much an indicator of how the rest of the album will sound. “Don’t Wish” opens with a short piano intro and keeps the momentum going in a similar fashion to its predecessor while still managing to stand out on its own.
Third track “Lonely Girl” is where they really turn up the heat, however; crunching guitar riffs, pounding drums and memorable lyrics all combine with McDougall’s fiercely commanding vocals to deliver a three-minute pop-rock romp that is sure to be a live favorite for many tours to come. This song should come with a “will get stuck in your head” warning label, it’s that good. “Hell and Back” sounds the most similar to the band’s debut album, a solid pop-punk tune with another catchy chorus and particularly strong lyrics (“It was the heaviest rain I ever felt on my skin/It was the heaviest place that I have ever been in/As the walls crashed down I felt it slip away/Cause I went to hell and back just to be where I am today”).
Going into the album’s midsection, the title track and my personal favorite song “The Other Side” changes the pace a bit, beginning with acoustic guitar strumming and some almost-whispered vocals from McDougall. If you’ve ever been in the all-too-complicated situation of attempting a relationship with your best friend, you’ll latch onto this song immediately. It isn’t quite a ballad per se, but it’s as close as the album comes to one. It builds and builds until the whole band lays everything on the table, and McDougall’s vocals are wonderfully vulnerable yet powerful.
Up to this point, most of the songs have followed a similar vocal pattern with McDougall showing her lower range and falsetto in the verses and soaring in the choruses. That pattern changes with “The Fire”, however, as she and the band power full force through the entire song in under three minutes. Taahi and Hardy’s guitars really shine in this one as well. “Complexes” and “Come Home” are solid mid-tempo jams, the former featuring an especially commanding and catchy chorus.
It’s not entirely smooth sailing, though, as we hit the album’s one weak point in the form of “Bathwater”. Structurally there’s nothing about it that really stands out, but the real problem lies in its uncomfortable lyrics. Examples: “So bathwater hear me now/as I scream out from below” and “It’s like it’s piercing the sky/I wish it all could just stop”. The whole thing just feels awkward and out of place.
Luckily, the momentum picks right back up with the final three songs as the band turns up the heaviness and takes a darker tone with “No Different” and “Say Please”. The former, in which Cam Adler’s snarling bass lines steal the show, sounds at times like it could be a Secret & Whisper song while the latter is equal parts heavy and catchy. Closer “You Don’t Owe Me Anything” is a bit of a curveball but in the best way possible, starting with a lovely piano and some of McDougall’s softest vocals on the album. The best part about the song, though, is that it brings the entire album full circle both musically and lyrically. The band’s maturity shines the brightest here as the song conveys a sense of peace and comfort. It’s the perfect way to close out The Other Side and leave listeners reaching for the “repeat” button.
Tonight Alive took a risk with their sophomore effort – they branched out of the comfort zone set by their debut album and expanded to new horizons. The Other Side will not only please longtime TA lovers, it is sure to gain the band many new fans and will likely end up gracing many top-album lists in December. Don’t be frightened by the Aussie group’s expanding maturity; instead, be frightened that this is only their second album and they’ve already honed their craft to near perfection.