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LIVE; experimenting and damn the moneymen!
on April 11, 2006
I enjoyed this album as I do all LIVE albums, though it is my least favourite offering so far, if only because some of the songs sounded like they were trying too hard to be 'LIVE-like'...and because unlike most LIVE albums, this one does not read like a book; a progression of songs from one end to the other that tells a consistent story. Instead it seems more like a haphazard collection of songs written while on tour. However it is growing on me, song by song; or rather some of the songs are growing on me at different paces, unlike with, say,'V',where I dismissed the whole first half of the album at first blush, only to have it explode in my consciousness as a whole two listens later as a cohesive narrative of confusion and anger fading to hopeful Love.
For me, 'Pray's progression was of standouts like the powerful 'SHE' and the haunting indictment 'What Are We Fighting For?', then the creepers; the haunting ballad to Jesus, 'River Town' first crawled up into my psyche like a determined mouse and then ate away at my resistance bit by bit (I now absolutely ADORE this song!), then 'Sweet Release' struck me as wonderful. 'Run Away' was already a good road song, only improving with Shelby Lynne's backup/duo vocals n the Best Of version. 'Out To Dry', 'Like I Do', 'Lighthouse', 'Everytime I See Your Face' and 'Sanctity of Dreams' took a little longer, but I've found something to love in them as well, in that order. On the other hand, 'Heaven' has always seemed too radio-friendly to me, and the frantic 'Life Marches On', and overwrought 'Bring the People Together' were the ones that felt like they were trying too hard...the lyrics and melody just never seemed to match up in my mind. This inconsistency for me was the reason this could never be my favourite LIVE album; but then Ed calls it 'the sound of a band restarting its engines'...so here's hoping the progressionwill be smoother in 'Songs From Black Mountain'; an album that already sounds like it will have its commercialised aspects, but also flashes of the old introspective/spiritually inquisitive LIVE I love and treasure.
A lot of people (read: critics) slam this band for,(A) having an 'inconsistent recording history' (a criticism that only holds up in 'Birds of Pray' in my lexicon), or (B) being from the grunge era.
My rebuttal to (A) is: Too many folk in the music business can't seem to get past the biggest selling album disease; they compare all later efforts to the one that broke the charts. I personally wouldn't have remained a LIVE fan of this degree throughout the years if all they had done was release a 'Throwing Copper' clone every couple of years. I happen to LIKE the fact that LIVE gives the money-driven industry the finger and goes on growing and evolving--and letting their music evolve WITH their lives and ideas--without regard to trying to duplicate the public success of their best known effort. This rather punk ethos (for a solid rock band anyway) is called 'not pandering to the moneymen' and 'artistic integrity over public consumption'. The subsequent albums have sold well, though they haven't had the lucky timing that 'Throwing Copper' had to fit so well into what was happening in popular music at the time. Only jaded critics who care only about numbers would call these modest successes 'failures' only because they weren't 'Throwing Copper's with different covers. Far too many bands and artists have been murdered by their labels forcing or pressuring them to recycle, rerecord, and play the same stuff that won them accolades in their breakthrough efforts, regardless of whether they had since grown or changed; in the process losing that edge of anger or wonder or whatever it was that first captured the public imagination. LIVE has chosen to be comfortable with the fans that 'get' them rather than allowing someone to force them into an artistically stultifying mould for the sake of sales alone; this is called 'not selling out', and for taking that risk I applaud them.
As for (B): Though they happened to have emerged into the public eye in the same era as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, et al, LIVE never really fit the grunge model with anything but a tendency to ignore the interview and paparazzi angle of business (ie they refused to whore themselves out to the media, instead preferring to concentrate on the MUSIC, shocking though that may be!), and a wonderful sort of ambivalent anger at the socio-religious status quo. This anger was the reason many folk loved 'Throwing Copper', and dislike later albums, in which the anger has faded to a message of Hope and Unconditonal Love. If consistent anger without growth is what these folk are looking for, then obviously a band that grows and changes is not for them. And for those who call lead singer Ed Kowalczyk a Kurt Cobain wannabe; they have obviously never listened for a moment to the lyrics and melodic spirit of his songs anyway.
Which brings me to another main criticism of LIVE. Some folk are turned off by the overt spirituality of Ed's lyrics, calling it 'preachy'. Critics also slam LIVE for their lyrics, saying "if we wanted preaching, we'd go to church". But EddieK is not preaching; he neverdoes. What he is doing is sharing the most intimate moments of his life: the moments when the Spirit touched him and made him whole; and in knowing how that feels, how uplifting it is in a moment of confusion, I find these lyrics inspiring.
As a long-term Live fan, I find them life-altering; and in fact, this fourth album, 'Distance to Here', quite literally saved my life. Many I've spoken to feel the same way; for though Live as a band name is hard to 'google', the FriendsofLive are out there and being uplifted daily by the work the band, and EddieK with his lyrics in particular, do. They make the world better just by being in it...and by being willing to SHARE! If communication and understanding can save the world, then Live are right on the avant guarde, with U2, the Indigo Girls, and a few others.
So all I can say for those critical minds who find Live's lyrics 'pretentious and sentimental' and 'drippy softcore preachery'... for them I can feel only pity, for as far as I am concerned, the message of Love is one for everyone, if we can but let it in. If the lyrics don't speak to these people, fine; but they do speak to some of us; so deeply that they bring tears to our eyes. So the fact that these critics are arrogant enough tell everyone they meet not to bother listening long enough to make their own decision/connection (or not) with the music, to me, is a sin. Just because they got nothing out of it, doesn't mean we are all alike...thank God! Yes, we are all different...but Love is Love.
Thank you EddieK and Live, for lifting me up.