Australia’s punk rock sons have returned with their most personal record to date. Shift more than lives up to its name, marking a dramatic gear-switch in The Living End’s songwriting style.
In place of the revolts, riots and resistance anthems that we’ve come to expect from the iconic trio, here we see them turning the microphone inward, laying bare their own personal heartaches, headaches and healing remedies.
After a five-year hiatus, the band’s first comeback single Keep On Running was a gutsy choice to lead with and a surprise left-hook for many longtime fans. An introspective and heartfelt ode to overcoming hard times – inspired by the death of frontman Chris Cheney’s father – the uplifting string-laced ballad serves up a side of The Living End that we haven’t seen before.
Listen: The Living End – Keep On Running
The downside of this is that many fans were left wondering whether the Aussie punks might have gone soft in their old age. But if you’re one of them, then fear not. Even the most casual fling with the rest of the album proves that’s definitely not the case.
In many ways, the band have bottled more manic energy than ever before into the 11-song-strong Switch, which crackles with raw emotion and organised chaos.
From the berserk double bass of disc-opener One Step, to the apeshit guitar riff of teaser track Monkey, to the boogying instrumental jam interlude of Up The Junction to the psycho disco beats of Wire, it’s clear that the Melbourne rockers have lost none of their musical edge. Quite the contrary: you can almost hear the sweat dripping off the strings.
Shift also sees the band flirting with genres and influences, straying from their punk rock roots with a dose of Nirvana-meets-psychedelia in Life As We Know It and dishing up a dizzying combo of dub groove, sleazy drunken bass, desert blues guitar and Beatles-style melodies in Coma, which is one song that should not be listened to while recovering from a hangover, just FYI.
But the disc’s most triumphant moments come in the form of two songs that sit on polar opposites of The Living End spectrum.
The first is Staring Down The Barrel, a fast-paced, angry, hook-packed belter that is top-shelf, classic Living End, complete with a central loaded gun metaphor. But the second is another ballad; the effortlessly likeable With Enemies Like That.
Kicking off with a clean pop-rock guitar line, the reflective track dishes nostalgic, reflective lyrics about the mistakes of the past, arranged into a rich Crowded House-style melody and delivered with raw emotional sincerity by Cheney. The uplifting chorus achieves peak pop status without losing any of its integrity, and is best listened to while gazing out the window of a moving train and pondering your life.
Look, while Shift may not end up being your favourite Living End album of all time, it’s nonetheless a bold and worthy addition to the band’s epic catalogue, and a rare warts-and-all insight into the psyche of one of Australia’s greatest frontmen.
It should be more than enough to satisfy long-time fans, but it might just win over some new ones as well.
‘Shift’ is out May 13, you can grab a pre-order here.
Listen: The Living End – Monkey