The Living Things: Ahead of the Lions (Jive)

But the end result is an album that feels tired and not strikingly different than the sort of mindless rock these brothers supposedly rail against.

The debut release from the Living Things should be the most exciting album to stir up rock ’n’ roll in maybe 30 years—that is, if even half the hype about this group is true. These three brothers from St. Louis have been picked up and dropped by two major labels in as many years, as their “rough edges” proved too incendiary for company executives. Lillian Berlin, the vocalist/guitarist and eldest brother, says it’s because of their politics, and he may not be that far from the truth. Their onstage antics—throwing meat at a George W. Bush blowup doll, then lighting his picture on fire with a pistol-shaped lighter, for instance—have turned more than a few people off. At a show in Texas, they were greeted offstage by a few good ol’ boys who drug ’em out back and served up a beating to remember, complete with pistol whips, broken ribs, and a few gun shots.

Along the way, they cut the album Black Skies in Broad Daylight (Dreamworks) with Steve Albini on production. It was never released in the United States but advance copies were smothered with praise. They were heralded as one of the greatest, hardest-rocking bands around. Lillian was likened to “Johnny Rotten with politics.” It seemed like everything was in place for the Living Things to take the modern rock world by storm—everything except a proper release for their album.

So here we are in 2005 and the Living Things are set to give their debut another shot. This time around the album’s titled Ahead of the Lions and being released on Jive, where presumably the boys have a bit more creative control. It’s unclear whether any of the tracks have been lifted straight from Black Skies; some of the titles are the same. But by some twist of fate, Skies falls shockingly flat. It can’t be the same album that was halted for its “rough edges.” It certainly isn’t lively; it’s anger without energy, aggression without emotion.

The album’s strongest point is undoubtedly its lyrics. At Living Things’ more focused moments, they stab admirably at exposing the atrocities of war and corruption in government. Take opening track “Bombs Below,” for instance: “Where do all the dead boys go?/No solution, just bombs below.” But the end result is an album that feels tired and not strikingly different than the sort of mindless rock these brothers supposedly rail against. It tumbles along with mammoth power chords, heavy in sluggishness and simply heavy, with Lillian’s subdued voice rolling out one tirade after another like he’s been hypnotized by his own anger. Johnny Rotten would have some pretty choice words. | Daniel O’Malley


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