Kowalczyk and co. try to stay a-`Live'
By CHRISTOPHER SHIPLEY
Scene Music Critic
Modern bands have always had to carefully regulate the evolution of their music. With every new album, listeners expect a new sound; but they will divorce themselves from the group completely if the change is too radical.
This was the genius of Led Zeppelin, who changed styles so often and with such ease that no one noticed. But this was before radio playlists and videos became the medium by which most music is measured. Spiritual rock icons U2 received a great deal of criticism after releasing Zooropa and Pop, both of which experimented with a fusion of pop and techno elements.
Which leads to Live, who has sold over 14 million records during the 1990s, but who finds itself looking for a new sound after its 1997 release, the moody, experimental Secret Samadhi — a record which was met with mixed reviews at best.
Following the enormous success of 1994's dramatic Throwing Copper, the change in format to heavier rock alienated many of Live's fans. According to frontman Ed Kowalczyk, the title of Live's fourth album, The Distance to Here, can be interpreted both as a long spiritual and musical journey and also as the idea of never having left the safety of home.
Live's new album is most noticeably a union of its first and third albums and combines longing lyrics describing the search for God with guitar riffs that stay at a breakneck pace for most of the album.
Kowalczyk has not had such lyrical clarity since Live's 1991 debut album Mental Jewelry. His lyrics and vocals have matured and now pinpoint the confusion many people feel in their relationships with God. "I've been to pretty buildings, all in search of you, I have lit all the candles, sat in all the pews ... Oh the distance is not do-able in these bodies of clay my brother," he sings in "The Distance."
Though the fusion of soul-searching lyrics and guitar walls does not always work, it clearly steers the band away from the anger in Samadhi to an earlier point in its musical lives when the questions about faith, not the answers, were important.
Gone forever is Live's ability to build pulsing melodies into a dizzying crescendo of emotion and feeling. Instead, all of the emotion which Kowalczyk and company wish to emit is spilled out by the end of the first refrain. The pace the band tries to keep over the remainder of each song is distracting.
By the end of the album songs begin to run into one another, except for "They Stood Up For Love" and "Dance With You," a love song reminiscent of Samadhi's "Turn My Head."
Tragically, it has also become increasingly clear that acoustic guitars will never be heard on another Live album again.
The Distance to Here is a compilation of the innocence, sense of the dramatic and angst that as led Live to become one of the best soul-searching groups since U2, but still lacks the tenderness which Kowalcyzk wielded so effectively on earlier albums.
THREE OUT OF FIVE SHAMROCKS
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, October 26, 1999