[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.


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