Living Things want you to wake up. Uncuff your hands. Don’t just sit there with eyes glazed over, readily accepting everything you’re told. The government does not have your best interests at heart. So wake up already!
Black Skies in Broad Daylight, Living Things’ politically charged debut, is being released at a perfect time. The country is knee-deep in doubts over the motivations of the Bush administration, crowding the theatres to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and gearing up for another tedious bout of electioneering. Nauseatingly coiffed hair, bleached smiles, stern thumbs-up gestures, clichéd speeches that would make even the poet Jewel cringe, and a plethora of empty promises: it must be the campaign season! Living Things aim to cut through all that coma-inducing bullshit and open your eyes to what’s really threatening individuals, like a firm snap breaks the spell of a hypnotist. Black Skies in Broad Daylight is the band’s manifesto, if you will, delivered as a meaty, angry, passionate, fuzzed-out rock juggernaut. It also happens to be one of the most confident and fearless hard rock debuts of this year.
The three Berlin brothers who comprise Living Things—singer/guitarist Lillian, bassist Eve and drummer Bosh—hail from St. Louis, MO, but you’d think they were the next big thing out of a perpetually budding rock scene like New York City or Detroit. The album’s dozen songs are rife with the simple 4/4 riffing of the Ramones, the vigorous sleaze of the Stooges, and the politics of the Clash. They seem to have materialized out of thin air (on Dreamworks, no less), shortly after driving a borrowed car out to Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal. Yet Black Skies in Broad Daylight arrives with no buzz attached; it’s been available in the UK for two months now, but the same hyped bands seem to continue to clog the cluttered headspace of the US press. Isn’t it funny how people can get excited about a collection of half-dead defibrillator cases making music that wore out its welcome a decade ago, but no one’s heard about Living Things?
It’s also funny how a record can drug you into the very state of complacency that it begs you to rally against. Black Skies in Broad Daylight is that good, capable of wooing you into head-bopping bliss with its melodious four-chord maneuvers, gradually sending its message home with unshakable choruses. Beneath the warm overdrive of the guitars and the larynx-shredding overload of the vocals, Living Things are restless and voicing it. “We’re gonna win the war”, rails Lillian in the acidic, electric “Bombs Below”, “That’s what you kids are for”. The track, with its hyper-real Cars kickoff, inspired Ramones-esque chants (“Where do all the deadboys go / Go / Go / Go”), and Lillian’s gruff Rottweiler bark, is at once a snarling indictment of the military and an exhilarating blast of untempered rock.
Elsewhere, Black Skies in Broad Daylight warns of brainwashing (“No New Jesus”, “New Year”), attacks hypocrisy (“Born Under the Gun”), and laments money’s starring role in society (“I Owe”, with its blistering list of “The FBI / The CIA / The FDA / The NSA / Our HMOs / Our PPOs / The CEOs / And the USA”). The brothers’ religious background seeps its way into the songs as well; though they’re the furthest thing from a Christian band, the profuse imagery of apostles, saviors, and gospels add weight to Living Things’ ideology (and is especially relevant in country whose president erroneously leads based on religious faith).
Black Skies in Broad Daylight was recorded by prolific indie knob twiddler Steve Albini, who lends a lean, muscled sound to the songs. The instruments possess that high-gloss distortion that manages to sound simultaneously snaggletoothed and intentionally self-contained. Lillian’s voice purrs and snarls in equal amounts, often overloading the microphone atop the swells of Zep-worthy fury.
Living Things recently wrapped up a tour opening for Velvet Revolver, which is kinda like having the Clash open for Kiss. Hopefully some folks took notice of the little-known opener, attempting to upstage its celebrity bill-sharer. Hopefully Living Things will garner the amount of recognition they deserve by the time the album is released here in the US. In times like these, we need a caffeinated wake-up call injected into our rock music, not just some skeleton in leather pants slithering around on stage. It’s time to listen to music that matters again.