Record Review - 3 May 20 2004

Fusing the nervous energy of rockabilly, the pent-up frustration of early punk and the anthemic call-to-arms choruses of mid-'80s bands like fellow Aussies Midnight Oil, the Living End became arena headliners in the band's homeland. While the trio haven't parlayed that success to the States, it displays the talent, drive and sinewy tough-guy looks to attract the same disaffected post-tweens that think Blink-182 is edgy.

Modern Artillery, the Living End's fourth release since 1998, certainly pushes enough buttons to get the group noticed in the States. The styles hop from "Who's Gonna Save Us?" — a ringer for an Oil B-side — to the skinny tie new wave-isms of the crispy Joe Jackson-styled "Tabloid Magazine," the simplistic but irresistible power pop hooks and snappy bubblegum vocal interplay of "In the End," and even the loop/techno-enhanced "Short Notice."

But from the chant-along fist waving of "Who's Gonna Save Us?" Modern Artillery is the sound of a talented band throwing its arsenal against the wall in hopes that something will stick.

Most frustrating is the near abandoning of the Living End's punkabilly roots, an approach that not only provided distinctive visual stimulation with a slapping upright bass, but also juiced the band's sound with snotty retro attitude. The simplistic smiley-face melody of "Putting You Down" is toothless next to this album's explosive "Hold Up," a potent old-school example of the group's Rev. Horton Heart-meets-the Clash roots.

Thankfully, the Living End remains tight, committed and earthy. The group's decade-long existence, complete with nonstop touring (including a high-profile Warped Tour spot) infuses a cocky confidence that remains convincing, even with the once mighty WMD munitions diminished.

The Living End plays the Cotton Club at 8 p.m., Mon., May 24. $12.