Like a lot of Aussie music lovers, I was in the early stages of musical discovery when The Living End dropped their legendary 1998 self-titled debut. Suffice it to say, from the moment the iconic ‘Prisoner of Society’ intro dropped, it was love at first note.
I’ve lived in awe of Chris Cheney and co. ever since, but I’ve also had awkward relationships with the records which followed, drifting between being deeply in love with some (Roll On, Modern Artillery), loathing one (Shift) and being largely indifferent to at least parts of others (White Noise, State of Emergency, The Ending is Just The Beginning Repeating).
So it was with a degree of trepidation that I pressed play on the band’s eight record Wunderbar. As an internal monologue raged within my mind (“Is this the record where they rediscover the raucous energy that still fuels their live shows, or am I going to find myself longing for a connection that no longer exist?”) the punchy power-pop fuelled ‘Don’t Lose It’ hit and I found myself in a state of toe-tapping delight, in which I would remain for most of the next 35 minutes.
Recorded in Berlin over an inspired six-week stint with German producer Tobias Khun, Wunderbar is The Living End reconnecting with the raw and rebellious spirit which fuelled their early output, then funnelling it through the prism of their collective lived experience. The result is a rockin’ sonic joyride which makes Wunderbar the best record The Living End have released in more than a decade.
The fusion of exuberance and experience is immediately apparent on ‘Not Like The Other Boys’, an anthemic rocker which questions the notion of traditional Australian masculinity. As Cheney’s signature rockabilly-infused guitars lock in with the rhythms of double-bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan, it’s hard not to get carried away singing the absolute earworm of a chorus.
The same can be said of new single ‘Otherside’, a rollocking slice of straight-up Aussie pub rock with a monstrous chorus hook and blazing solo, which gets its work done in less than three minutes. The Living End have long been one of the best live bands on the planet (just ask Billie Joe!), and on ‘The Other Side’ you can absolutely hear why.
The politically inspired punkabilly of ‘Death of the American Dream’ is an absolute riot, and if it wasn’t so damn topically relevant, you’d swear this was a track from the glory days of the late ’90s. Cheney’s vocals are so raw and impassioned you can almost visualise the lyrical bullets hitting their rather obvious targets (*cough* Trump/alt-right *cough*). Scott Owen also turns in one of his best walking bass lines in years. The stripped-back acoustic ending adds a sense of weathered realism which just reinforces the sincerity of sometimes LA resident Cheney’s intentions.
The dad rock vibes of some of The Living End’s mid-career output are still present on Wunderbar with the ’80s Oz-Rock tones of ‘Drop the Needle’ and ‘Love Won’t Wait’, and the guitar and vocal Cheney solo on ‘Amsterdam’ calls to mind elements of White Noise and State of Emergency, but on Wunderbar they serve as considered moments of respite between ragers such as ‘Proton Pill’ (a song with a glorious faux-chorus, and Ed Kuepper guitar tones) and ‘Rat in a Trap’.
While admittedly Wunderbar is no The Living End or Roll On, it is a genuinely good The Living End record, filled with songs that will slot seamlessly into their riotous live shows, and in 2018 that’s arguably much more than it needed to be. Fuck yeah.