On their fourth outing, Australian outfit Tonight Alive take their turn down a more pop-oriented path trodden by contemporaries like All Time Low, Sleeping with Sirens, and PVRIS. The band's final album with founding guitarist and main co-writer Whakaio Taahi, Underworld brims with melodic, catchy anthems polished with synth sheen, reinvigorating the band's energy after the relatively ho-hum Limitless. It's certainly divisive, taking steps away from the nondescript emo-punk that defined their early, Paramore-esque albums and sliding deep into the pop-savvy and highly produced mainstream. Here, instead of drawing even more comparisons to Paramore, Tonight Alive take cues from Lowell, Massachusetts trio PVRIS. In fact, that band's vocalist, Lynn Gunn, even shares the mike with Jenna McDougall on the propulsive "Disappear." While the bulk of Underworld is immediately enjoyable, there is a lot of material that is ultimately unmemorable, despite a handful of key tracks that serve to satiate until the next release. Standouts include the explosive opener "Book of Love," the desperate "Temple," and the shimmering "In My Dreams." Unlike on Limitless, there are just a few midtempo pauses to the intensity, like on "For You" and "Looking for Heaven," which come off like early Avril Lavigne hits. To that end, the band's fresh pop leanings on Underworld frequently venture beyond the rock world, with McDougall flexing her vocals to such an extent that, at points, she sounds like Katy Perry ("Crack My Heart"), Kesha ("Just for Now"), or Kelly Clarkson ("Last Light"). While this might seem disastrous to fans of their early work, it's also proof that McDougall -- without Taahi as a co-writing foil -- could take the band into refreshing and exciting directions. Until that synthesis becomes fully realized, Underworld stands as a major turning point for Tonight Alive, a point of division in their artistic maturation.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung