Tonight Alive - What Are You So Scared Of?
Release Date: October 14, 2011
Record Label: Sony Music Australia
Equal parts substance and style, Australia’s Tonight Alive is preparing to make an enormous splash in American waters with its debut full-length, What Are You So Scared Of? On the surface, the band might appear to come off as another manufactured, female-fronted pop-rock band, and that impression is not unfounded. But when you get past the surprisingly intriguing short, instrumental opener and the lovely Jenna McDougall gets into the first verse (0:36 specifically) of “Breaking and Entering,” there’s a certain dark undertone to the bright melody that gives you the sense that she might know something you don’t. And maybe she does, because when the avalanche of a chorus rolls in, the purely catchy, upbeat pop-punk strips away any preconceived notions and hits home as an undeniably fun and addictively sweet listen.
Speaking of things that are addictively sweet, Tonight Alive’s sound can quite accurately be compared to candy. You crave it in large doses, you might feel guilty after you indulge in it a little too much, and when you get in the mood for it, you need it quickly. Anyway, “Starlight” shows this band might just be a little rougher around the edges than we were expecting, as guitarists Jake Hardy and Whakaio (!) never take their foot off the pedal. McDougall keeps up with them throughout the entirety of What Are You So Afraid Of?, and while the Paramore comparisons will be rampant – and I mean, “the Australian Paramore” will become an increasingly tiresome phrase until like March – Tonight Alive can’t be accurately contained in that similarity.
More accurately, one might say that Tonight Alive is like if Hayley Williams was singing but New Found Glory or Set Your Goals was playing. “Fake It” isn’t the only song with headbang-worthy double-kick drums, but it’s certainly a standout. Meanwhile, “Reason To Sing” incorporates a dose of background gang vocals that mix with McDougall’s impressive “whoa-oa-oa’s” in a way that makes you wonder how long the radio can go without it.
What Are You So Afraid Of? is oddly long, and while its 14 tracks are not devoid of filler, the record does a brilliant job of leaning heavily on its highlights. One of these is “Thank You & Goodnight,” which features an awesome guest spot by a guy named Mark Hoppus. The name drops don’t end there, as superstar producer Mark Trombino was behind the boards in the studio. Trombino’s fingerprints are all over each song, but this isn’t a bad thing. What Are You So Afraid Of? is nearly perfectly produced, providing the type of sheen that all candy needs to have.
“To Die For” is taken from the band’s first release, the All Shapes & Disguises EP. It’s the most Paramore-esque song on the album, as the opening guitar riff bears an uncanny resemblance to Paramore’s “Pressure.” The title track, meanwhile, proves to be the band’s last hurrah – a thumping, triumphant closing stamp on the record.
And I hate to keep bringing this back to candy (no I don’t), but all candy has its drawbacks. When you eat too much, you might get sick or tired of it. For example, when the Rapture was imminent in May, I ate a lot of Twix bars to make sure I got my lifetime’s worth of it, but a week of endless chocolate caramel crunch gets old – even if it is delicious the whole time. What Are You So Scared Of? definitely lacks in the replayability department, as its length heavily weighs against how often listeners might be coming back in the future. When you’re in the mood for this band, nothing will hit the spot more. But I can’t see myself coming back to all 14 tracks very often, although there are standout singles that may find their way onto playlists well into spring and onward. But regardless, I haven’t eaten a Twix since May.
A lack of lasting power and a style that teeters on the verge of being repetitive might just make Tonight Alive a perfect candidate for mainstream consideration, though. Given how teenage music consumers have taken to Paramore’s meteoric rise, it’s tough to imagine Tonight Alive not seeing success as well. Given the upbeat sound propelling the group and an incredibly good-looking frontwoman who might be just as marketable as Yelyah Williams herself, I’d predict an onslaught of popularity for this band on American soil if Sony launches a proper campaign for it.
At the end of the day, What Are You Scared Of? doesn’t break boundaries, but Tonight Alive is definitely one of the more talented groups playing a sugary brand of pop-punk. McDougall’s talent speaks for itself in every track and the backing musicianship, while certainly not bulletproof, is solid enough. If you can take this record for what it is and not overthink it, What Are You Scared Of? will be an immensely enjoyable experience.