Living Things - Ahead of the Lions
I love my brother as much as the next man, but I can't imagine spending my days with him touring from town to town, humping equipment around, spending hours on end cooped up in a minibus or in a recording studio. The rock and roll lifestyle would have to be seriously glamorous for me to be able to put up with that. But Living Things comprises no less than four brothers, out on the road, gigging, playing and recording. Think of the fights they must have, all those occasions running of to mummy to grass on your siblings.
However, they must be able to tolerate each other, as this fine collection of songs show a tight, snappy outfit, low on originality but high on passion and tunes. Cut very much like a mixture of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Ramones, the brothers Berlin grew up in St Louis, moving out to Los Angeles where they are currently based. Their first album, “Black Skies in Broad Daylight”, was released in 2004 and was also produced, like this album, by Steve Albini.
However, "Black Skies" was never officially released in the US, and in an unusual move many of the best songs on that album appears here on “Ahead of the Lions”. The track “Bombs Below” opens both albums, and it is easy to see why – it is a rallying cry, full of heads down, full on guitar. The vocals snarl and chant with superb performances all round. It isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but that doesn’t stop it sounding pretty fine. This is very much a hard rock album, similar in feel to The Datsuns and early 90’s Jesus and Mary Chain.
The stand-out song is the single, “Bom Bom Bom”; its seventies stylings meaning it wouldn’t sound out of place in a jeans commercial, but all the same, it is a fine track, showcasing the production with some interesting touches that marks it out above the rest of the album. “New Year” is less good, sounding like The Lemonheads in some respects – its rock meets pop and the two don’t really gel that well here.
Better is “God Made Hate”, with more Glitter-band drums and a no-nonsense crunch of guitars. “No New Jesus” REALLY sounds like Jesus and Mary Chain, a thumping, dirty song with a buzzsaw guitar during the verse. “Monsters of Man” is another interesting track, featuring a quirky and welcome saxophone bringing a lot of colour to the song. Album closer “I Wish the Best for You” slows things down and its pretty good, hushed vocals but with a powerful, emotive chorus.
Much of this album doesn’t work though and suffers from the curse of everything just sounding the same. “Monsters of Man” seems to go on for ages, “I Owe” sounds like a pub band and “March in Daylight” and “New Year” just sound like the same song.
Living Things have a good sound, a nice “classic rock” aesthetic that gives them that enduring quality similar to Kings of Leon. However, this is quite a one-note album, where not much changes amid the up close vocal and the crunch of guitars. Much of it sounds like background music to American teen dramas or a Levis advert waiting to happen. However, songs such as “Bom Bom Bom” and “Monsters of Man” show a lot of talent and promise. Not an album to recommend to the casual listener, but much to offer if you are a Ramones or Kings of Leon fan.