Throwing Copper
Secret Samadhi
The Distance To Here

Throwing Copper (Radioactive ’94) Rating: A-
Although not overly original by any means (U2 and R.E.M. are obvious influences), Live is an ambitious and ultra-serious band that consistently strives for a big sound. This is immediately apparent on “The Dam At Otter Creek,” which builds off a repeated riff and displays the band’s muscular ensemble playing, as well as ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison’s powerful production. Throwing Copper, the band’s second and best album by far (1991's Mental Jewelry was the debut), then delivers the slew of hit singles that brought Live significant commercial success: “Selling The Drama,” “I Alone,” “Iris,” “All Over You,” and the band’s biggest hit, the haunting ballad “Lightning Crashes.” Generally speaking, what most of these deserving hits have in common are mellow verses, spiritual lyrics, and driving, catchy choruses. Other notable album tracks include “Top,” an intense (as are all of these songs) and evocative entry that oddly enough recalls Rush, “Shit Towne,” which pissed off a lot of people in the band’s hometown, "Pillar Of Davidson," an epic near 7-minute ballad with a big tuneful chorus, and “White, Discussion,” which ends the album in explosive fashion. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as the album also contains a welcome bonus track that’s highlighted by pretty country guitars, though its chorus of “she rode a horse into my head” shows why singer and primary songwriter Ed Kowalczyk will never be confused with Bob Dylan. Granted, the other songs not previously mentioned ("T.B.D.," "Stage," and "Waitress") are less impressive, and at an hour long the album could've used a little trimming, not unlike most albums of its era. Fortunately, the band nails their epic sound on most songs, making for extremely compelling and often exciting straight-ahead rock music.

Secret Samadhi (Radioactive ’97) Rating: B
Although the band showcases more of their own distinct personality here, the sparks that made their previous album so arresting appear with far less frequency on Secret Samadhi, as too many of these primarily mid-tempo songs lack the catchy hooks that were so prevalent on Throwing Copper (which they'll be hard pressed to ever top). Although Kowalczyk dominates the proceedings less this time out and his bandmates (Chad Taylor, guitar; Patrick Dahlheimer, bass; Chad Gracey, drums) weigh in with potent performances, Live were more fun when they weren’t trying so hard to find their own musical identity and simply boasted some strong songs. Lyrics are also a major problem, with forced rhymes like “you stole my idea, puke stinks likes beer and everybody’s here” literally making me wince at times, and the band’s humorless self-importance likewise wears thin after awhile. Still, there are some stellar songs. For example, the atmospheric “Rattlesnake” starts the album off well, while the intense first single “Lakini’s Juice” effectively marries big, fuzzy riffs with dramatic string embellishments. Elsewhere, both the disturbing “Heropsychodreamer” (lyric: “I’ll kill you in my dreams, I turn the other cheek during the day”) and “Freaks” (about tabloid journalism) rock hard, and the falsetto-enhanced second single “Turn My Head” is utterly lovely. These songs prove that Live can reach powerful heights, but Secret Samadhi, which has several average ballads with annoyingly whispered vocals, doesn’t consistently deliver the goods, making it a disappointing follow up to Throwing Copper.

The Distance To Here (Radioactive ’99) Rating: B+
Returning to a far different musical climate dominated by teenybopper popsters (the less said about them the better), and thuggish nu-metal bands (likewise), Live sound the same as always. And though perhaps they could still lighten up a bit (ok a lot) and better pick their at times clumsy metaphors (Kowalczyk ‘s lyrics remain an at times difficult to overlook weakness), this album’s gorgeous atmospherics and the band’s epic sound still offers ample rewards. Granted, Live repeatedly apply the standard soft to loud dynamics (and back again) that long ago became alternative rock staples, but at their best the band’s explosive epiphanies still strike the right chord with this listener. Reunited with Throwing Copper producer Jerry Harrison, the album’s moody textures actually have more in common with Secret Samadhi, but this is a more consistently successful effort in that vein. Not that the album doesn’t rock at times, mind you, as it’s difficult to deny this foursome’s pummeling power on songs such as “The Dolphin’s Cry” and “Where Fishes Go.” Elsewhere, the soaring buildups on “Run To The Water” and “Meltdown” are everything that power ballads should be but so often aren’t. “Face and Ghost (The Children’s Song)” and “They Stood Up For Love” are equally evocative, while “Dance With You” ends the album on a beautifully vulnerable note. In addressing the album’s central theme and his own continuing spiritual quest, Kowalczyk states: “the message of The Distance To Here is no secret. It is a message of love and an invitation to myself and to those who want to come along to ask the big questions and not feel uncool doing it.” This is repeatedly borne out throughout the album on lines like “love will lead us” and “come on out into the light of love.” And though Live pretentiously overreach at times in their zestful search for transcendence, by and large the band is well worth indulging. Alas, this album failed to match the commercial impact of its predecessors (particular Throwing Copper), and subsequent releases were even less successful.

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