For all of the negatives that folks can link with George Bush’s presidency over the last 5 years, one positive is certain: he has done more for music than any other politician in a long time. No public figure has spurred the creative juices of musicians spanning all genres. Bruce Springsteen, Bright Eyes and Green Day, to name a few, have all benefited from Bush induced fits of rage.
Which leads us to rock newcomers Living Things, a trio of brothers from the St. Louis area who make no bones about what they think about politics in general and the current state of affairs specifically. Ahead Of The Lions, produced by veteran producer Steve Albini, is an in your face, straight up hard rock album from a band that seems poised to break out on the heels of the release.
The band is driven by 3 main forces: Lillian Berlin’s political or otherwise biting lyrics, his commanding voice, and guitar riffs that stick with you long past the album’s final track.
Berlin’s voice reminds me of the late Michael Hutchence, not simply in terms of them sounding alike (although there is an element of that), but also the impact of their vocals on the band as a whole. INXS had the tunes, for sure, but what made them special during their heyday was Hutchence’s iconic personality and the way his voice projected that self-assuredness.
Berlin has a similar role in Living Things, except he is singing about war and politics, where Hutchence crooned about “The Devil Inside” and a “New Sensation”.
The album doesn’t stray into some flavor of the day rock sub-genre. No, this is just hard rock with licks to rival some of the more notable rock bands of the last 20 years. The album only loses its focus a few times, most notably during “On All Fours” which morphs from hard rock to the type of annoying metal where the lead singer just screams and emotes as much as possible, hoping that the louder they yell, the more believable their angst will be.
Standout tracks on the album include the first single, “Bom, Bom, Bom” which, based on its title alone, should be a hooky rock song about banging chicks, but instead is about sending young people off to fight wars. The anti-establishment “I Owe”, the religious tainted strains of “No New Jesus” and “God Made Hate” speak to Berlin’s fascination with religion and its place in our culture.
I don’t think Living Things will necessarily change anyone’s political opinions, but they sure will turn some music lovers into fans of their work, and isn’t that what its really all about? If you don’t care for Living Things’ politics, the lyrics can be easily dismissed in favor of a great record that is not afraid to be unabashedly rock, instead of trying to qualify it with 12 prefixes to explain the type of rock it is.
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