[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

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