With an album title like Holy Shit, Living with Lions was bound to get attention.
Like the movie whose title is censored every time it’s shown, Young People F**ing, the punk rock quintet Living with Lions from Vancouver, BC is walking the tightrope of controversy with the title of their second full-length album under Black Box Records. Add that to the fact that the album’s cover design features the typeface and dark background more often seen on the covers of Gideon bibles, and you have the potential for an instant polarizing effect: Either you think it’s a clever play on words and visuals, or you assume it’s an angry commentary on religion. To be honest, it’s neither.
The album opens up with a promising extended guitar intro (53 seconds long) before exploding into an angst-ridden, but rather formulaic lament for a broken relationship, hence the song title, “Pieces.”
This is followed by a series of tracks no doubt inspired by heartfelt emotion – or as lead vocalist Stuart Ross declares at the beginning of “In Your Light,” “This is a heartfelt f*** you!” – but, which in the end, collectively come up somewhat lacking.
Instrumentally, the music is not bad. Punk is not, by its very definition, about subtlety. But against that tapestry of beautiful noise, what could have made the songs on this album stand out – lyrical complexity, depth, or even just, well . . . meaning – simply isn’t there. It often sounds like they are trying harder to make the words rhyme than to convey a message.
Case in point: In “In Your Light,” one of several songs about a relationship gone wrong, Ross sings, “This is a heartfelt f*** you! / I bit my tongue I bit right through the skin / It got so thin from all the times / From all the places / Complaining and wasted / We got used to how it tasted.”
In “Honestly, Honestly,” rhyme trumps reason as he sings: “Down, down, down, down, down / I’ll see you when you’re down / Down where I am now / This time I’ve had enough / It’s time I called your bluff / You’ll quit while you’re still up / With nothing to lose /And so much to hide / Eventually you’ll drown to no surprise /And you’ll go down, down, down, down, down.”
While it’s obvious that many of the songs deal with emotional aspects of life and love – either based off their own real experiences or perhaps written as a broad commentary on the nature of relationships (alluded to in the line, “Covered up feelings behind these punk rock beats” on the final track “When We Were Young”) – these songs feel like the aural equivalent to the bag of chips you get from a vending machine: You pay for a bag; you get fifty percent air. With this album, you feel like the vigorous guitar riffs and pop-punk-heavy drumming set up each song to be so much bigger than it ultimately is. But as the lyrics go in “Regret Song,” “I lifted you so high, your head was in the clouds . . . too bad you didn’t look down.”
Given the line-up changes that have occurred within the band’s recent history (bassist Shayne Lundberg was replaced by Bill Crook, and vocalist Stuart Ross replaced Matt Postal, who took over the duties of original vocalist Stu McKillop), it may be right to assume that they are still finding their sound as a band. However, for this particular album, it’s safe to say it’s still a work in progress.
With gritty instrumentals and screamed lyrics, the songs try to embody strong emotions, from the angst of a relationship falling apart (“Pieces”) to the tensions between youthful expectations versus personal failings (“Maple Drive is Still Alive”). But the uninspired lyrics; uneven singing, in parts; and lack of emotional depth mean this effort is still pretty “Rough Around the Edges.”
02. Regret Song
03. In Your Light
04. Honestly, Honestly
05. Whatever You Want
06. Maple Drive Is Still Alive
07. Wake Up
08. Matthew’s Anthem
09. Rough Around the Edges
10. When We Were Young