[Album Review] "V" – Live

V - LiveAlbum Title: V
Artist: Live
Year: 2001
Running Time: 52m 38s

Track listing: 1 Intro; 2 Simple Creed; 3 Deep Enough; 4 Like a Soldier; 5 People Like You; 6 Transmit Your Love; 7 Forever May Not Be Long Enough; 8 Call Me a Fool; 9 Flow; 10 The Ride; 11 Nobody Knows; 12 Ok?; 13 Overcome; 14 Hero of Love; 15 Deep Enough (remix)

Live showed that they were ready to mix their classic power chord-based sound with a more modern edge on parts of 1999’s “The Distance to Here”. They went for the jugular two years later when the edgy-looking “V” hit the stands. The grainy, alternative cover, featuring the band strutting towards the camera seemingly looking for a punch up, was the first time they appeared on the front of one of their releases. It was to be a statement of intent, an in-your-face introduction to their fifth album.

Opening with a curious, eastern-sounding instrumental simply called ‘Intro’, the album launches into ‘A Simple Creed’, a song that feeds trademark guitar licks with a throbbing electronic sound and a short mid-section rap from key-collaborator, Tricky. Ed Kowalczyks booming vocals are unmistakable – from the quick-fire verbal assault of lines like ‘angry at who? me? you better back up fool/i bet you took a gun to school too’, to the almost angelic bridge and chorus (‘cos we need each other/we gotta love each other’).

‘Deep Enough’ is a crunching, hammed-up piece of metal about a former lover (‘we hit the room, me and my crew/and it was cool until we met you), suffering jealousy (‘there you were…with a man that danced like he was born/in ’49, but lost his groove back when jesus died’), and wondering where it all went wrong (‘what did i do? what did i say?/that gave you away’).

Like waiting for an inevitable punch in the mid-riff, you know what’s coming with ‘Like a Soldier’ – the slow-verse, fast building-bridge, throbbing chorus formula that Live have used so effectively in the past. The mid-song rap is questionable and the anthemic chorus features awkward lyrics, but overall it’s a likeable tune.

Interesting, to say the least, is the raucous and angry ‘People Like You’. A self-appreciating lament if such a thing exists, Ed may be examining the reaction to this very album. ‘In a dream I had/I was on a stage with Queen’, spelling out his own desire to be successful and popular, but acknowledging the inevitable backlash that it brings (‘where the boys in Live?/they’re p*ssing in the mainstream’) and welcoming it (‘open up your cage/focus all your rage/the world needs people like you’).

More restrained although slightly peculiar, is ‘Transmit Your Love’. Ed talks up his band: ‘with Live, it’s game seven every night’, and gives us hilarious lines like: ‘you should of come to the show/but you didn’t, now you’re wishin’ that you had/had to go to jimmy buffet with your dad’. The mid-tempo, pleasant verse is only slightly tarnished by the anti-climax that is the turgid chorus (‘transmit your love to me and/silently make me whole again’).

Following hot on it’s heels though is one of “V”‘s MVP. Featured in the movie “The Mummy Returns”, ‘Forever May Not Be Long Enough’ also has an Eastern-feel and a mysterious and slightly wistful musical and vocal theme. ‘This world is never enough and I’m not givin’ up/my faith in love is like blood, i’d spill it freely for some’, Ed sings rather eerily. The logical crescendo comes with the uncompromising line of ‘Don’t stop to look at the clock, forever won’t be long enough’. Brilliant stuff.

More gentle is ‘Call Me a Fool’, a piano-backed ballad and under-stated lyrical and vocal effort that works particularly well during the tight but appealing chorus. ‘Overcome’, another piano-based track and contender for outstanding cut on the record, is melodic, haunting and genuinely emotional. If Robbie Williams were to release this it would be number one for months. ‘I am overcome/holy water in my lungs’, Ed sings with the sort of honesty that only he can.

While we are on the subject of ballads, you got to say that ‘Nobody Knows’ works nicely too. It’s a simple theme: ‘Nobody really knows what I would do for you/Nobody really knows how much I love you’. But it’s easy to welcome the simplistic rhythm of ‘Nobody Knows’, a simplicity that is often lost on “V” among the over-sampled loops and electronica.

‘The Ride’ is a successful, Indian-tinged attack on western-culture. ‘In the East, they can meditate…I think I’ll go there someday’, Ed tells us, before explaining how (‘You don’t need money to fly away…you don’t need a car to truly ride’). He expresses his distaste for the loss of spirituality (‘In the west we think we’re the best/we’ve shown the whole wide world/that money is all we care for now’) and tells us that ‘someday the scientists will see/there’s no such thing as gravity/they’ll all just light a candle/take a seat for the ride’. Clever and hard-hitting.

While ‘Flow’ starts off so well with it’s a pleasant country-acoustic verse, it loses it’s way when the electrics kick in and the painful chorus undoes all the good work. ‘OK?’ is far removed from Live’s previous work, a frenetic rocker full of samples. Although not the best song on the album, it’s ragged style suits the message of ‘Take away my TV/don’t want your fvckin’ recipe/it’s all decay decay decay’.

Album closer, (with the exception of a “hidden” remix of ‘Deep Enough’), is the more familiar Live-sound of ‘Hero of Love’ – tender lyrics (‘I caught a glimpse of heaven last night/to the left of your body/to the right of your mind’), catchy rhythm and Ed’s passionate, semi-falsetto vocals.

While “V” doesn’t always hook consistently, and it is undoubtedly a musical diversion, I’ve got to say that it works extremely well. You do appreciate the classic sound that is apparent on a handful of tracks, but it’s interesting to hear them re-invent themselves in excellent cuts like ‘Forever May Not Be Long Enough’ and ‘A Simple Creed’. There is some weak material here, but with fourteen tracks, hitting skip a couple of times is a small price to pay. While some fans didn’t like it and saw it as an unnecessary experimentation, can you really say that any self-expression is unnecessary? Live continue to dazzle.

4star

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[Album Review] "The Distance to Here" – Live

The Distance to Here - LiveAlbum Title: The Distance To Here
Artist: Live
Year: 1999
Running Time: 56m 10s

Track listing: 1 The Dolphin’s Cry; 2 The Distance; 3 Sparkle; 4 Run to the Water; 5 Sun; 6 Voodoo Lady; 7 Where Fishes Go; 8 Face and Ghost (The Children’s Song); 9 Feel the Quiet River Rage; 10 Meltdown; 11 They Stood Up For Love; 12 We Walk in the Dream; 13 Dance With You

Live would be the first to admit that “Secret Samadhi”, the 1997 follow-up to their multi-platinum “Throwing Copper”, didn’t set the world alight commercially. In a bid to try and re-cement their appeal in the US, they shifted gears slightly with 1999’s “The Distance to Here”. Moving away from the heavy, sometimes-downbeat chord sequences that helped make “Samadhi” such a powerful record but struggled to provide a hit single, Live aimed for a more diverse release.

And if hits were the aim, then “The Distance To Here” had several. ‘The Dolphin’s Cry’ is a typically explosive Live love song, doused with ethereal lyrics such as ‘The way you’re bathed in light/reminds me of that night/God laid me down into your rose garden of trust’. With a great melody and hook, it stands out as one of the albums best moments.

‘Run to the Water’, a tale of the search for salvation, is a tight and likeable mid-tempo moment. Lyrically (like a significant part of the album), it’s a bit tired. The well-worn path of lines like ‘Adam and Eve live down the street from me/Babylon is every town’ is a rehash of the Christian/love your brother idea that Live have done numerous times before. ‘The Distance’ also comes up trumps although again the church organ coupled with obvious church images like ‘I’ve been to pretty buildings all in search of you/I’ve lit all the candles, sat in all the pews’ make you feel like Live are imposing their beliefs rather than inviting you to listen to them as they had done before.

But beyond the familiarity and the seeming imposition, are some rocking tracks. ‘Sparkle’ is a guitar-driven number that although sending a familiar message (‘the vision that changed my mind/From hate to faith/Was as simple as grapes to wine’) wins you over with it’s throbbing chorus and scorched-sounding vocals. ‘Sun’, recalling visions of ancient sun-worshippers giving up their hearts and minds to the unknown in the sky, also works with it’s urgent start-stop verse and edgy chorus. And working really well is ‘Where Fishes Go’, describing a meeting with God (‘Yeah I found god/And he was absolutely nothin’ like me/He showed me up like some dime-store hooker’), which turns into one of humility (‘I couldn’t take it anymore so I went back to the sea/Cuz’ that’s where fishes go/When fishes get the sense to flee’). Lead singer Ed Kowalczyk then feels mocked as he sings ‘Where you goin’ now?/Whats your plan?’.

‘Voodoo Lady’ is an interesting pseudo-R&B moment. Gritty and sleazy, dirty lyrics like ‘Light up a cigarette she said/And calm the fuck down’ bump along a focused bass-line, while the metallic chorus tells a tale of deprivation and temptation (‘Hey! I’ve made up my mind, yeah/I came to see your sign/Disappear this mornin’ but come back tonight’). ‘Face and Ghost’ is a mid-tempo number with a haunting quality. ‘Can you hear that children’s song?/Can you take me to that place?’ -lyrics that fit perfectly with the near-celestial quality of the soundtrack.

‘Feel the Quiet River Rage’ is reminiscent of the semi-acoustic work that Live produced on their debut release, only it works much better here with the experience they’ve developed over the years. Having said that, it’s a song that never really goes where it should, travelling slowly on distorted vocals and peculiar lyrics (‘Afraid to lay naked in the sun/He’s crazy, she dances in the light’ and ‘an invisible Mississippi, Ganges or a Nile/I can feel the quiet river rage/Forcin’ my lips into a smile’).

Not quite hitting the mark either is ‘Meltdown’. A straightforward musical moment that just doesn’t hook you in like earlier tracks, it does however feature some good guitar work from Chad Taylor. ‘They Stood Up For Love’ is an anthemic reverse of Live’s usual light verse/heavy chorus modus operandi. The synth-heavy verse is the strongest part of the track, along with the INXS-influenced mid-section. The problem with the chorus is that it is a somewhat lyrical headache – ‘We spend all of our lives goin’ out of our minds/Looking back to our birth, forward to our demise/Even scientists say, everything is just light/Not created, destroyed but eternally bright’. It’s a lot to digest.

“The Distance to Here” peters out, sadly. ‘We Walk in the Dream’ is a Crowded House moment with guitars. Ed seems to get totally lost with the lyrical imagery – ‘Like an eagle cuts through the air/No time for fear/Faith in his wings takes him there/Now we walk in the dream’ – it’s an overworked lyrical trick that has outstayed its welcome. ‘Dance With You’ is another disappointing moment that seems devoid of energy or any sort of invention.

After the brilliance of their last two albums, Live have half-done the job here. “The Distance to Here” is an uneven release that seems too self-conscious to be a triumph. Taking on board the criticism that “Secret Samadhi” (unfairly in my opinion) received, the band have mixed a more acoustic and simplistic sound of their earlier work with the rock stylings of later work. It’s the simpler stuff that doesn’t work (‘Meltdown’, ‘Dance With You’, ‘Feel the Quiet River Rage’), and the rock numbers that work brilliantly (‘Sun’, ‘The Distance’, ‘The Dolphin’s Cry’). Rather interestingly, the use of distorted vocals and instruments on occasion was to lay the groundwork for their fifth album…but that’s another story for another day.

Just about recommended, don’t expect the album to thrill you from start to finish.

3star

[Album Review] "Throwing Copper" – Live

Throwing Copper - LiveAlbum Title: Throwing Copper
Artist: Live
Year: 1994
Running Time: 59m 32s

Track listing: 1 The Dam at Otter Creek; 2 Selling the Drama; 3 I Alone; 4 Iris; 5 Lightning Crashes; 6 Top; 7 All Over You; 8 Shit Towne; 9 T.B.D.; 10 Stage; 11 Waitress; 12 Pillar of Davidson; 13 White, Discussion; 14 Horse

Following on from their well received debut release, “Mental Jewelry” in 1991, Live took three years to come up with “Throwing Copper”. Like “Mental Jewelry”, this was an album that was quite easy to pigeon hole. But whereas the debut was a thin-sounding, Christian folk-rock. college album, “Throwing Copper” was a tougher and fuller rock record full of less literal, and yet more wholesome music. For the first time, we hear Live really let loose on their instruments. Ed Kowalcyzk’s vocals, which were impressive enough before, really explode this time – screeching and soaring, but also soft and pronounced when required.

‘The Dam at Otter Creek’ avoids the mistakes that lent to making their debut a flawed album. The slow-building, lone guitar carries mysterious lyrics like ‘just like when the guys/built the dam at otter creek/and the water backed up/deep enough to dive’. But in time the band crash in with a fast and hard-rocking assault that is almost disorientating in its passion.

They repeat the trick on the amazing ‘I Alone’. The hard-hitting and powerful chorus is a perfect balance to the tempered verse where lyrics like ‘it’s easier not to be wise/and measure these things by your brains’ when in context, provoke more than anything on “Mental Jewelry”. On that album the accusation was that the lyrics were too ‘obvious’. The theme hasn’t changed here, but this time the Christian message is hidden behind clever lines like ‘I sank into Eden with you/alone in the church’ and ‘the greatest of teachers won’t hesitate/to leave you there, by yourself, chained to fate’.

Simple but effectively, ‘Shit Towne’ describes the decay in suburbia. ‘The crackheads live down the street from me/the tall grass makes it hard to see/beyond my propery/hey man, this is criminal’ mourns Ed, before denouncing this society as ‘Shit Towne’.

‘Top’ is a song I can relate to very well. Commenting on the various cults and freaks in society who lead people ‘in the name of God and love’, Ed claims they are responsible for ‘the distribution of fear’. But it’s simple people who are blinded by their credentials (‘I haven’t got your degree/and I forgot your name’). He finally brings it back to the greatest and deadliest crank of all time: ‘Hitler, in a robe of truth/my emptiness built your altar/and I’ve worshipped myself in you forever’.

Two of the most hard-hitting tracks are the stunning mid-tempo rocker, ‘Selling the Drama’ and acoustic classic ‘Lightning Crashes’. The former is a semi-acoustic number itself, that doesn’t excel lyrically as much as it does musically. Using visions of heaven and hell through phrases like ‘to love a god/to fear a flame’ and ‘to Christ, a cross/to me, a chair’, it’s difficult to know quite what message the lyrics are sending – perhaps a case of Ed trying to be a little too obscure, for me at any rate.

‘Lightning Crashes’ is the radio-hit that pushed “Throwing Copper” to #1 on the Billbaord charts a year after it was released. An incredibly powerful, poignant song that relates a moment in time for three generations of women. A woman has just given birth (‘a new mother cries/her placenta falls to the floor’) to a baby girl (‘the angel opens her eyes/the confusion sets in/before the doctor can even close the door’), at the same time that another mother has passed on (‘an old mother dies/her intentions fall to the floor/the angel closes her eyes/the confusion that was hers/belongs now to the baby down the hall’). It’s an affecting tune, that resonates hope as much as it portrays hopelessness. In the context of it’s own moment in time, ‘Lightning Crashes’ became the theme tune for Americans in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing.

‘All Over You’ is a crunching love-song with a simplistic hook that you can’t resist bopping your head and feet to. What’s particularly nice is the forboding mid-song instrumental that really turns things upside down and keeps it interesting. Great stuff.

Speaking of obscurity, the oddly-arranged ‘Iris’ hints at domestic abuse with lines like ‘I liked the way my hand looked on your head/in the presence of my knuckles’ and just what was ‘perverted by the sentimental/and mistaken by love’? The cryptic lyrics really add a new depth to Live’s music, and with the music also having new depth itself, it’s a perfect combination.

‘Waitress’ is more alternative, maybe slightly grungy – a sound that Live do very well. Quite simply Ed reckons that the bad-tempered waitress (‘she was a bitch, but I don’t care’) is deserving of a tip (‘come on baby leave some change behind…everybody’s good eonugh for some change’). He explains that we’re all human regardless of our walk of life (we all get the flu/we all get aids/we’ve all got to stick together’).

‘T.B.D.’ is a completely different sound, slow and bass-driven, which is seemingly about an avid bible reader (‘reading too much and losing my head…now I’m remembering God…the print is smaller than the ants in the grass’) who believes that the message should be in life, and not in a book (‘this is how I’ll go out tonight/and I don’t need a book’). An interesting experiment. But ‘Stage’ rocks us out again with a near-metal onslaught that deals with excesses in life (‘I wanna feel/I wanna try/I wanna rock the city tonight/I wanna deal/don’t wanna die’).

The two longest songs on the album come near the end. ‘Pillar of Davidson’ could easily be REM, a band that Live sounded like frequently on their debut. A jagged vocal from Ed sits uncomfortably over a downbeat tempo, but roars into life for the tuneful chorus. At nearly seven minutes, it is to the credit of the band that the song doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and stands as a more than competent composition.

‘White, Discussion’ is a present-day concert favourite, and rightly so. Live have some fun on the arrangement, essentially placing the choruses within the first two minutes and leaving the final four minutes to unleash a bombardment of howling vocals, guitar solos, thundering rhythm section and distortion. A tremendous way to finish the album…or is it…

The infamous hidden track rears its head again. Live were doing a terrific country-acoustic track called ‘Horse’ long before Travis hit the big-time. It doesn’t sound much like anything else on “Throwing Copper” so placing it away behind the last track was a harmless idea. Great sound, great hook and terrific vocals once again.

This is rightly regarded as one of rock music’s great records. There’s nothing particularly weak on it and in context, the entire album is likable from top to bottom. Live learnt an awful lot about song-writing in the three years since their prior release. For that we can be eternally grateful.

4halfstar

[Album Review] "Birds of Pray" – Live

Birds of Pray - LiveAlbum Title: Birds of Pray
Artist: Live
Year: 2003
Running Time: 44m 25s

Track listing: 1 Heaven; 2 She; 3 The Sanctity of Dreams; 4 Run Away; 5 Life Marches On; 6 Like I Do; 7 Sweet Release; 8 Every Time I See Your Face; 9 Lighthouse; 10 River Town; 11 Out to Dry; 12 Bring the People Together; 13 What Are We Fighting For?

After a difficult two-year period, Live have returned with the aim of re-establishing themselves in the rock mainstream. The gutsy “V” was a commercial failure and their sixth full-length release, “Birds of Pray”, has become a key release for the Pennsylvanian foursome. And if we judged a book by it’s cover (which you could have done with the gritty cover art for “V”), then “Birds of Pray” cries serenity, perhaps maturity. And if the cover suggests it, then the music confirms it.

The gentle opening chords of lead single ‘Heaven’ are a clear indication that the band have returned to their more classic sound. A plea to the people, lead singer Ed Kowalczyk suggests that it’s time to reclaim our spirituality – ‘You don’t need no friends/get back your faith again/you have the power to believe’. Inspired by the birth of his daughter (‘I don’t need no one to tell me about heaven/I look at my daughter and I believe’), ‘Heaven’ is a cracking tune – and indeed the track, which has laboured in the lower reaches of the chart for six months, has finally made a breakthrough into the Billboard top 100.

While ‘Heaven’ does rock, there’s a grittier edge to ‘She’. Paying homage to a possible femme fatale (‘bring back that hair-down/unguarded mystery’), the powerful chorus of ‘she sets my soul free/now every word she speaks to me is pure gold’ is terrifically catchy and possible single material. It fares better than the promising but ultimately disappointing ‘The Sanctity of Dreams’. An irritating sing-a-long chorus and patchy lyrics counter a killer riff. How do you go from ‘Paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa’ and ‘Pick up a pen and fight a war for the right to dream’ to ‘No more hidin’ in the house of the dead/I think I’ll grow some dreads’?

But the disappointment doesn’t last long. ‘Life Marches On’ is a throbbing, feel-good number that exudes the virtues of country life over a city dwelling – ‘what’s the use of being so high up/when it’s only going to bleed you dry?’, Ed asks quite sensibly. The mid-section tone and tempo-change is perfectly judged and once again you find yourself thinking that this baby could be a single.

‘Like I Do’ is moodier, with a heavier bass line and rawer vocal edge, but doesn’t cover much ground lyrically. Expressing love for a woman (‘I feel like a god when I am next to you/Somethin’ sacred, someone straight and true/Tell me do you feel the same way too?’), the message is simply rehashed throughout the track, only becoming a little more interesting during the robust chorus.

‘Every Time I See Your Face’ is acoustic pop-rock that would sound more at home with Robbie Williams or one of the braver Pop Idols. Like on 1999s “The Distance to Here”, Ed goes a little overboard on the lyrics. ‘Every time I see your face/it’s like heaven opens up her gates/and I fall behind, I just close my eyes’, is far too generic a lyric to be interesting. It then gets a bit pompous and silly: ‘If the quicksand of love and deception/finds a way to come between you and me/don’t fret, I’m gonna cut through the darkness and set us free’.

And while ‘Lighthouse’ is made of sterner stuff, it still fails to really rouse. The harmonies and reasonably catch chorus are welcome, but ultimately this rocker is left foundering on the middle ground. ‘River Town’ and ‘Out to Dry’ fall into the same category. In a direction that sums up half the record, earnest leanings are tempered by a sense of mediocrity. Never an easy band to interpret, it seems that the lyrical vagueness is now becoming a weak link. In ‘Out to Dry’, Ed sings ‘These things that sustain me/Oh how they drain me/I’ll never hang you out to dry’. What’s that supposed to mean? The guitars are strumming and the controlled aggression is there…but the song is…boring.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this album totally misses the mark. ‘Sweet Release’ is the sort of song I’ve been waiting for. Provocative and uplifting it is one of the few moments where a track reaches the heights of ‘I Alone’ or ‘The Dolphins Cry’. Tried and tested formula it might be, but the bars that lead from the gentle verse to the stirring chorus remind you why you are a Live fan. A true classic.

Energetic and frantic, ‘Bring the People Together’ is a war-cry to the masses. ‘It’s a crime, this dark time/We wait for presidents that never turn the tide’, Ed muses, explaining that it is ‘for the sake of these children we leave behind’. Great band performance, especially from Chad Gracey on stick duty.

And changing the pace one-eighty is the album closer, ‘What Are We Fighting For?’. An obvious reflection of world events over the previous two years, this powerful, electric-tinged ballad could make a huge impact on the charts. With lyrics like ‘Oil and blood on the bayonet’ and ‘The world got smaller but the bombs got bigger/Holocaust on a hairpin trigger’, a video clip featuring Mister Bush, Blair, Sharon and Arafat, would create an unforgettable, oft-repeated legacy for MTV.

‘Run Away’, a single in Holland, is the weakest song on the album. A departure for the band in that it features no electrics at all, it winds up a tired-sounding ballad whose only note-worthy moments are derived from Ed’s always-interesting falsetto vocal.

While I’ve been critical of a handful of songs on “Birds of Pray”, there is still enough material here to make this a worthwhile acquisition. It’s true that Live have set very high standards for themselves since 1994s “Throwing Copper”, and negative comments are normally a result of them falling short of these musical blueprints.

3halfstar

[Album Review] "Mental Jewelry" – Live

Mental Jewelry - LiveAlbum Title: Mental Jewelry
Artist: Live
Year: 1991
Running Time: 51m 38s

Track listing: 1 Pain Lies on the Riverside; 2 Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition); 3 Beauty of Gray; 4 Brothers Unaware; 5 Tired of “Me”; 6 Mirror Song; 7 Waterboy; 8 Take My Anthem; 9 You are the World; 10 Good Pain; 11 Mother Earth is a Vicious Crowd; 12 10,000 Years (Peace is Now)
Although mainly famous in only America and Australiasia (a hot-bed repository for American music), Pennsylvanian four-piece, Live, have been on the music scene for quite some time. Their debut release, “Mental Jewelry”, was an alternative/folk-rock album that became a solid starting-point for the chord-driven anthemic rock they would refine over the following decade and more.

Sounding somewhat like late-eighties REM, ‘Pain Lies on the Riverside’ opens up the album rather disappointingly. The formulaic rhythm leads into a slowly improving chorus that is lifted only by lead-singer Ed Kowalcyzk’s searing vocals. But sadly the lyrics get bogged down in the whole “soul cleansing” analogy: (‘pain lies on the riverside/and put your feet in the water/put your head in the water/put your soul in the water/and join me for a swim tonight’).

You better get used to the Christianity theme as it inspires a lot of Live’s music. In ‘Operation Spirit’, Ed talks about someone who has lost his faith. He acknowledges that Jesus was ‘a man of love, a man of strength’, but admits that ‘what a man was two thousand years ago/means nothing at all to me today’). But he appeals for his friend to ‘let it go/and lets get it back together’. A solid track with a strong chorus and featuring a strong rhythm section.

Semi-acoustic number ‘The Beauty of Gray’ only really works during the repeated one-line chorus and the serene mid-section. An attempt to deal with people’s failure to communicate and get on with each other, Ed explains that it is ‘not a black and white world’ and that to truly be alive we must appreciate the differences in each other and embrace ‘the beauty of gray’. it’s a nice sentiment but at this point you want him to just relax and talk about something more trivial.

‘Brothers Unaware’ is a mid-tempo track that gets bogged down once more in over-powering lyrics like ‘if I don’t know who to love/I love them all/and if I don’t know who to trust/I trust them all/and if I don’t know who to kill/I may kill myself instead’. But leaving that aside, the song is a strong testament to the Live sound: soaring and passionate vocals, Chad Gracy’s powerful and deliberate drumming alongside Patrick Dahlheimer’s measured bass and Chad Taylor’s fitting guitar work.

‘Tired of “Me”‘ is a reasonable rock-number about the end of a relationship but features the ludicrous line ‘hope is a letter that never arrives/delivered by the postman of my fear’. There’s certainly more than a nod to 80s-U2 here, a band that Live have often been compared to. That influence is even more apparent on the excellent acoustic track ‘Mirror Song’ and the so-so (and slightly silly) ‘Waterboy’.

‘Take My Anthem’ is a slightly laborious track that succeeds in the simple chorus of ‘take my anthem today’, while ‘You Are the World’ is an interesting bass-heavy, almost hymn-like song that you could swear inspired Pearl Jam’s entire mid-ninties career.

‘Good Pain’ is a fairly forgettable rock tune that accentuates Live’s inexperienced song-writing, but on the other side of the coin ‘Mother Earth is a Vicious Crowd’ is an unspectacular but promising recording that indicates that the band are getting a grip on their sound and future direction a little more. Closing off the album is the extremely REM-like ‘10,000 Years (Peace is Now)’, a track that’s hamstrung by uncomfortable lyrics and a somewhat poor musical focus. But you have to like the line ‘Mr President/I hereby pardon you all your crimes/for they are just as much mine’.

“Mental Jewelry’ is a mildly entertaining distraction but suffers from a number of issues. The production sounds a little too sparse, its folk-rock stylings leaving too much of a gap in the sound – another guitar would have helped beef up the experience somewhat. The song-writing is fairly average throughout with only tracks like ‘Brothers Unaware’, ‘Mirror Song’, ‘Operation Spirit’ and ‘You Are the World’ being worth of multiple spins. But average songs can survive if you have melody, and that’s somewhere that Live fell down in. There just aren’t any hooks on the album worth talking about.

And the biggest crime of all are the lyrics. Far too heavy and arduous for a rock-album, the band need to be able to mesh their Christian influences into the music and lyrics in a far less obvious and literal way.

If you own (at time of writing) the five Live albums that came after this one, then get this for the sake of completeness, but don’t expect it to rock your world.

2star

[Album Review] "Secret Samadhi" – Live

Secret Samadhi - LiveAlbum Title: Secret Samadhi
Artist: Live
Year: 1997
Running Time: 53m 27s

Track listing: 1 Rattlesnake; 2 Lakini’s Juice; 3 Graze; 4 Century; 5 Ghost; 6 Unsheathed; 7 Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe; 8 Turn My Head; 9 Heropsychodreamer; 10 Freaks; 11 Merica; 12 Gas Hed Gone West

Live were kept busy by the success of “Throwing Copper” in the mid-ninties, but as with their leap from “Mental Jewelry” to that album, they made another change in direction when recording “Secret Samadhi”. The line-up was the same (odd for a rock band in 90s America – eg Faith No More, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Guns N Roses), but creatively they took slight detours, aiming to bring their audience with them on the journey rather than radically attempt to attract a new one.

If you enjoyed the guitars that permeated “Throwing Copper” then you’ll appreciate that the wall-to-wall sound is re-created here. But things are a little slower in tempo. Take opener ‘Rattlesnake’, a guitar-driven, hook-laden, mid-tempo rocker about a ‘crazy, mixed up town’. Patrick Dahlheimer’s bass really stands out here but musically it’s an all round top effort. The only problem are with the second-grade lyrics: ‘is it money, is it fame/or where they always this lame’ and easy-rhyming like ‘let’s go hang out in a church/we’ll go find Lurch’.

‘Lakini’s Juice’ unmistakable riff makes this one of the album’s stand-out tracks. This is nothing like ‘I Alone’, ‘Waitress’ or ‘All Over You’. It’s a slowed-down, beefed-up slab of power-rock, complete with cryptic lyrics, killer chorus and befitting string section. You’d never confuse it with any other Live song, whether you like the track or not. Similarly ‘Freaks’, a strange tale about people who behave a little differently (‘if the mother goes to bed with you/will you run and tell Geraldo’), is a gradually-building tune that erupts during the chorus. Like ‘Lakini’s Juice’, it’s very distinct and works well.

‘Graze’ is the kind of tune that the new Metallica might have liked to have done. ‘We came to the earth to graze/everyone’s digging in/now there’s no time to live’, Ed bemoans during the unforgettable chorus. Again it’s a slow number that really pulls you in, no more so than when Ed goes falsetto with the word ‘live’. A superb track.

Three years before the millenium, and Live were already throwing out tales of devestation in ‘Century’. ‘Everybodys anxious/for the coming of the crisis/the collapse of the justice’ – a slightly exaggerated telling of what it was actually like but at that time he only had sci-fi movies and books to go by. Lyrically, they have lost the run of themselves a little with ‘I can smell your armpits’ which is not a very pleasant image.

‘Ghost’ mirrors the Adam and Eve story of temptation – ‘boy loses a rib in New Orleans/he can’t help eyein’ up the whores’ – and ‘Unsheathed’ is another serene tune that goes off in an angry musical and lyrical storm during the chorus of ‘Free love is a knife through the jugular vein, son’.

We finally tone things down during what is probably Live’s most tender number, ‘Turn My Head’, a very likable effort. But we’re grunging-up again with ‘Heropsychodreamer’, a tune very similar to what Pearl Jam were doing on “Yield” at the same time. The lyrics are very odd though, and it’s hard to know what Ed is referring to. ‘the subconcious keeps me here/i fell in love with a balladeer/i saw your tongue, it licked my heart/they call you queer’.

I finally know where Aerosmith got the riff for ‘Jaded’! Kind of. It’s called ‘Merica’, and it’s got a catchy chorus but more unfathomable lyrics: ‘looks like America’s dropped her load/she tried to call me on the telephone/”everything is fine now the baby’s here”/she’ll have to handle this on her own’.

‘Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe’ sounds very similar to ‘Rattlesnake’ and I’m a bit surprised it was included because of the likeness to the opening track. It’s a good number though, musically powerful and lyrically obtuse. The album finishes very strongly with ‘Gas Hed Goes West’, a beautifully crafted country-rock number.

It’s difficult to discuss the songs in too much depth because they are so hard to understand. The lyrical are, in all honesty, completely obscure and difficult to comprehend within context. I know there were complaints of how literally the band wrote on “Mental Jewelry”, but I feel that they took it a step too far on this record. Luckily the music is powerful and deliberate and stands up on it’s own two feet. “Secret Samadhi” might not have obtained the success that “Throwing Copper” did but it’s not far off being that albums equal. Very underrated.

4halfstar