Tonight Alive breaks into a new style

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Tonight Alive breaks into a new style

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It can be a bold move for an artist to alter the sound that helped establish their career. However, on their third release, “Limitless,” Australian rock quintet Tonight Alive had the make-or-break dilemma of continuing with what is familiar or traversing new sonic territory. Fortunately, they chose to pursue the latter and delivered.

“Rules were made for us to break, chances meant for us to take,” sings lead vocalist Jenna McDougall in her signature mezzo-soprano range, complementing a crescendoing bridge of the sublime cut “Oxygen.” The song encapsulates the band’s transition from the gritty, distorted guitar work of their widely successful sophomore effort, “The Other Side,” to the sun-kissed waves of synth that define the sound of “Limitless.”

The opening track, “To Be Free,” begins with McDougall’s vocals drowned out in a vocoder effect, before it erupts into a wall of ascending guitars and synths in major key tonality. Lead guitarist Whakaio Taahi then rips into his towering leads, adding a metallic tone to the ultra-polished production of the song.

“Human Interaction” crawls with brooding electronics and McDougall’s chilling, robotic vocal delivery, yearning for the attention of her listeners. The electronics shudder and explode once the chorus rolls around and McDougall comes to life with her octave-spanning voice.

Standout single, “Drive,” is equal parts playful and biting. The soaring, sing-a-long chorus provides bubbling synths, a bouncing rhythm, and McDougall’s stacked vocal harmonies to its defiant message: “My way or the highway!”

The band make a pitch with “Everywhere” for a TV spot on CBS’ next prime-time drama, with the song’s gushing strings, descending piano melody, and infectious hooks, reminiscent of Coldplay’s earlier material. Its heart-melting chorus would fit nicely during the opening credits of any overwrought teen drama.

Contrasting the album’s most sentimental song is the dark modern rock number, “How Does it Feel?” which scorns an ex-lover over its punchy, staccato rhythms and pointed lyrics: “You can’t hold me, can’t control me.” The song is as close as the band get to the more aggressive moments found on their second album.

The themes of individualism and escapism are dispersed throughout the record in McDougall’s strongest lyrical work to date. During the call-to-action, “We Are,” she implores her listeners in a rising falsetto to create the change they want to see in the world: “I want more for the world that we live in, we just take, never once have you given, she will speak of her pain if you listen.”

“Power of One” layers lightly strummed acoustic guitars with the bright metallic tones of Taahi and rhythm guitarist Jake Hardy, while bassist Cam Adler and drummer Matt Best control a tumbling rhythm with a light and airy balance.

Meanwhile, “Waves” is a piano-driven love ballad in which the guitars take a backseat to McDougall’s powerhouse vocals, soaring over the lush bed of synths in their ebb and flow dynamics.

The only misstep found on “Limitless” is the attempt at a stadium rocker, “I Defy,” which is one barbed hook or catchy vocal melody away from actually filling a stadium.

The closer, “The Greatest,” softens to lightly-strummed acoustic guitars and warm vocal harmonies. McDougall’s voice struggles between an aching quiver and a confident charm, an emotional tug and pull which is an organic and necessary bookend to a convincing album.

The songs on “Limitless” are easily Tonight Alive’s most matured and accomplished yet, exploring the themes of alienation, individualism, and social change.

Yes, the down-tuned guitars are dialed back, and there is heavy emphasis on electronics on this album, but the work as a whole is a daring step away from the band’s comfort zone without sacrificing meaning and melody.

Their sonic departure from their previous albums allows Tonight Alive to finally step out from underneath the shadow of comparison to contemporary rock act Paramore, to whom they are undeniably indebted.

The band are, nevertheless, their own musical entity now, and “Limitless” only crystallizes their path to being an international presence in the music scene.

Some longtime fans may feel alienated, but with the irresistible melodies and meaningful lyricism on this album, Tonight Alive’s career trajectory could very well reach the lofty ambitions that their album title suggests they are aiming for.

“Limitless” is now available in music retailers and streaming services worldwide.

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