New Music Through Old Ears — Dierks McNeil, Living Radio

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It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a listen to new releases from Aussie rockers The Living End, British trailblazers Radiohead, American storyteller Dierks Bentley and Canadian singer/songwriter Tracy McNeil.

New Album from an Old Artist

The Living End Shift

It’s a little hard to believe that The Living End have been around since 1994.

I still have strong memories of seeing them perform their double A side of Second Solution / Prisoner of Society in a seedy pub in the back streets of Melbourne, the entire crowd singing along.

Twenty two years and seven albums later, The Living End are still going strong. 


Led by singer/guitarist Chris Cheney along with upright bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan, The Living End are the definition of a tight musical unit, evidenced by a cracking live show and consistent presence on what remains of the Australian festival circuit.

As a title, Shift is apt, as the album sees the band almost totally abandoning the rockabilly/punk sound that defined their earlier output in favour of a more traditional rock approach. After half a dozen albums of relatively similar music this probably isn’t a bad idea, but still may be confronting for older fans who echo “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff” ad nauseum.  

With a sense of freshness and urgency that belie their experience, Shift is The Living End in a career renaissance, challenging themselves and growing as musicians.

Standout tracks: Monkey, Keep on Running, Life As We Know It

Sample lyric: ‘We can’t go forward and we can’t go back.’ (Death)

Verdict: 8/10 — another great album from one of Australia’s best rock bands

New Album from an Old Artist

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Formed in Oxfordshire in 1985, Radiohead are made up of singer Thom Yorke, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway. The band released their first single Creep in 1992 and found immediate success, driving sales of their debut album Pablo Honey and the 1995 follow-up The Bends. Sometime around 1997 Radiohead decided to change their sound, releasing the groundbreaking album OK Computer to widespread critical acclaim and occasional fan befuddlement.

Addressing issues of modern alienation and the decline of humanity, OK Computer struck a chord with a generation of misunderstood youth, so the band doubled down and went experimental with fourth album Kid A, released in 2000. After receiving a deluge of awards including album of the decade from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork Media, Radiohead continued to blaze their own trail, splitting with longtime label EMI in 2003. The split with EMI allowed Radiohead to become even more experimental, and in 2007 they released In Rainbows with a “pay what you like” pricepoint.

A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead’s ninth album, released following a period of the band members doing their own thing. This included an App called Polyfauna, a solo album from Yorke, and a collaboration between Jonny Greenwood and director Paul Thomas Anderson on the movie Inherent Vice. This collaboration led to Anderson directing a music video for the band, the ethereal single Daydreaming.

With a string section and sparse orchestration providing the backdrop for Yorke’s distinctive vocals, A Moon Shaped Pool is a great album to listen to when you’re contemplating the universe, but it might be a little too mellow for people who thought Creep was their best song.

Standout tracks: Daydreaming, Burn The Witch

Sample lyric: ‘Pieces of the wreck of mankind, that you can’t create.’ (Identikit)

Verdict: 6/10 — an interesting album, but not so interesting that I want to listen to it again

Album I Expect to Suck

Dierks Bentley Black

Before I listened to Black, I had no idea that Dierks Bentley was a country singer. While I have nothing against country music in principle, I’ve never really found much that lit my fire, with the possible exception of select Kenny Rogers and John Denver songs. When the first chords of the title track rang out my expectations fell, but I decided to give Black a chance. And you know what? I’m sorta glad I did.

Black is Dierks Bentley’s ninth album, and is dedicated to his wife of 11 years Cassidy Black. This seems slightly odd at times, as at least half of the songs on this album are about breaking up, but maybe that’s a rule for country albums or something. Despite the occasionally downbeat subject matter, Bentley is a master storyteller, evoking artists like Bruce Springsteen and Woodie Guthrie.

Even when Bentley falls into country music clichés like singing about his pickup truck (Pick Up) or botched relationships (Roses and a Time Machine) he manages to keep things interesting, either through a clever turn of phrase or an unexpected chord progression. There is also a pervading sense of joy that runs through Black, as if Bentley genuinely enjoys the art of singing.

If you really hate country music, Black probably isn’t the album to change your mind. If you’re a little more open minded, however, you might find something to like in Dierks Bentley’s repertoire.

Standout tracks: Different For Girls, Somewhere on a Beach, Roses and a Time Machine

Sample lyric: ‘Did I tell her she could move in and we’d move out to Vegas? Champagne all the way and we’d be married by Elvis.’ (What the Hell Did I Say?)

Verdict: 7/10 — country and western music for people who don’t like country and western music

Ch-check it out…

Tracy McNeil & The Goodlife Thieves

Singer/songwriter Tracy McNeil was born in Canada but now calls Australia home, after moving here in 2008 and forming the duo Fireside Bellows with Jordie Lane. After releasing a single album (2008’s No Time To Die) the duo went their separate ways, but McNeil had fallen in love with Australia and chose to make her home here.  

Tracy’s first solo album Fire From Burning was released in 2011 to critical acclaim, and led to an extended stint on the festival circuit and support slots for artists including Dawes, Tony Joe White and local legends Weddings Parties Anything. Over subsequent years Tracy began to pull together a group of like-minded musicians who were eventually dubbed the Goodlife. Including songwriter Dan Parsons on lead guitar, Luke Sinclair from Raised by Eagles on rhythm guitar, Trent McKenzie on bass and Bree Hartley on drums, The Good Life brought a new energy to McNeil’s music.

Skirting the admittedly broad line between folk, roots and country, McNeil and The Goodlife are a cohesive musical unit across Theives, conveying some deep emotion through deceptively beautiful songs. With influences from Fleetwood Mac to the Allman Brothers, the album charts a course through darkness and pain to eventually reach a place of joy and acceptance.

If you’re a fan of alt-country music, I recommend checking out Tracy McNeil and The Goodlife – you won’t be disappointed.

Standout tracks: Middle of the Night, Wait on You, Thieves

Sample lyric: ‘We’ve been getting stronger with the rainfall.’ (White Rose)

Verdict:  7/10 — a beautiful voice backed by a bunch of people who are really good at their jobs

Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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