Review: Tonight Alive – Limitless
Alluding to the recording of Tonight Alive’s third studio album Limitless, producer David Bendeth tweeted Alanis Morrissette with a heartfelt message: “It was like you were in the room”. And why wouldn’t he let the queen of ’90s pop rock know about an outfit that can essentially be described as, in some ways, her musical prodigies?
After all, it’s true that Limitless is, for the most part, a pop album. Its weighty ’90s influence shows its presence in the complexity of its production, while tracks like “How Does It Feel?” more specifically zero in on post-grunge. The whole album is a constant scale-tip between pop and rock, where the latter wins out on “To Be Free” and the former reclaims victory on “The Power Of One” – a song that could rightly feature in the credits of an early ’00s rom-com. On the surface, it’s easy to criticise Tonight Alive’s change of direction. But after you absorb the change, it’s also possible to dig a little deeper and find lyrical gems such as, “I’ll never live like I need forgiveness”, which will go a long way towards countering your generalisations that Limitless is a shallow 40 minutes.
With the pop influence of the LP comes a zoomed out focus on traditional band instrumentals and more of an emphasis on the vocals of frontwoman Jenna McDougall. Though it obviously translates differently live with the participation of the entire band, that shift is still noticeably different to an audience so thoroughly into the guitars of their prior pop-punk path. If you’re one of those defenders who is way too elitist to experiment along with the band on this album, you’ll be better suited to “I Defy”, a track balancing the lightness of the rest of the record’s electronic soundscapes with heaviness, upping the tempo and working the best vocals McDougall has ever dished out. While tunes like “Drive” have a screw-you message in a bubble-wrapped package, McDougall’s edgy, angsty expressions on this one actually deliver it, signed and sealed in all of its middle-finger glory.
There’s a point on this album where McDougall sings: “I will light up the sky if you let me breathe my oxygen”. To enjoy Limitless, that’s what you’ve got to do: repress your pre-conceived notions of Tonight Alive and just let them allow you to process the music and message of empowerment that they’re trying to share. Though the aesthetics in their music videos exude mixed messages, what with the juxtaposition of Korn-esque nu metal settings and conventional back-up dancers, the sonic integrity of this record is enough to allow you to ignore that and see it as a humble outpouring from the formerly-little Sydney band that could.
Limitless is out March 4 through Sony Music Australia.