I’ve been looking forward to the return of Tonight Alive. As a female fan of the alternative scene, I have always found safety in other female members. Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf, Hayley Williams of Paramore, and others have all influenced how I see things as a woman in music (even though I’m only a listener on the sidelines). I’m always excited to hear their perspectives. Jenna McDougall is another girl on my list, and she’s returned with a beautiful and hopeful picture of what’s been going on inside her head.
Underworld is an album about the search. Searching for meaning, for joy, for whatever can bring some light to our lives. McDougall and the other members of Tonight Alive really captured that well with the 13 tracks on Underworld. There’s nothing I love to see more in any piece of art than honesty, and that’s what Tonight Alive did with this album. It’s raw and it cuts deeply, but it’s also comforting. McDougall seems to have taken on the burden of reminding everyone that they’re not alone in what they struggle with.
To say that it’s been a turbulent ride for Tonight Alive is an understatement. From McDougall’s battle with health concerns to the departure of their guitarist Whakaio Taahi, there has been no shortness of setbacks. Regardless, Tonight Alive have stood strong and their resilience is showcased in Underworld.
The band has really turned a corner, musically, switching over from their frantic and moody pop punk vibe to a more grown-up pop rock sound. The tracks fit well together thematically, and it’s all around a great sonic experience. I loved the single “Temple” from the minute I heard it and was pleased to find that the rest of the album was just as strong. Singles can always be hit or miss, especially when they don’t represent the album well, but Tonight Alive chose correctly with all three of the singles they put out.
Speaking of women in the rock scene these days, I think McDougall and Lynn Gunn (of PVRIS) are on the same level. They’re both talented, have a great stage presence, and have still kept femininity a part of their career. I hate the idea that these bands have to be pigeonholed as “female-fronted,” and I’m sure that the bands hate it even more, so I won’t focus too heavily on it, but I hope that women standing on stage realize how inspiring their careers are. I bring this up because Lynn Gunn is featured on the third single, “Disappear”, and the two of them are a vocal dream team. I hope someday they’ll tour together again so I can hear it live (fingers crossed).
The track “In My Dreams” is also really lovely. McDougall takes a second to focus on the more positive side of things, and it’s a nice breather from what is mostly a thematically heavy album. She sings about not really feeling comfortable where she’s at, but there’s someone who helps her find a sense of peace.
Because Underworld is largely focused on finding peace within ourselves, despite what’s happening around us, perhaps McDougall is talking to her past self, letting herself know that even though there was a rough patch, it’s gotten better and it’s okay to have been that girl who struggled. Who knows, maybe she was talking to me.
The rest of Underworld continues the slow climb upward. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, just like life is. It goes up and down and there are glimpses of light, either musically or lyrically, in even the darkest points. It’s a musical essay on dealing with things and making it through successfully.
McDougall’s honesty is familiar to what we find ourselves experiencing. Tonight Alive has let us know that it’s okay to struggle and have those doubts about ourselves and what we feel. In those times when we can’t see past the problem right in front of us, Underworld is a reminder that it can and will get better if we just try to find the light.
Photo by Neal Walters
by Nadia Paiva
Nadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.