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The Distance to Here

By Fred Choi

Even in the context of a world that can never take anything at face value, there’s a lot to be cynical about with Live’s newest album, The Distance to Here. Perhaps the most obvious feature to be scrutinized is the overall tone of the album, which self-indulgently features more peace and love than a muddy field full of stoned hippies. The album tries to recreate the feeling of a bygone era through its music and lyrics and even through its artwork. In a recent interview the band’s main songwriter and vocalist Edward Kowalczyk said, “I’m intense about bringing a message of peace and love and understanding to a generation dominated by a nihilistic, dust-in-the-wind with-the-Internet-in-our-back-pocket attitude about life. I think it’s time to change that and to bring about more of that expansion of consciousness in the lyrics of our music.” The album, however, shows that Kowalczyk overshot his intentions and that his efforts, sincere as they may have been, fall short due to the lack of subtlety in his approach to effectively spread his message.

There are so many obscuring elements of the songs on Live’s new album that it is impossible for Kowalczyk’s didactic purpose to have much impact, especially when the point is repeated over and over again. Lyrics such as “Love will overcome,” “Love will lead us,” “They stood up for love,” and “Love will set you free,” and those which include images of fish and dolphins and rivers and suns lend a certain lack of credibility to the whole album. This, combined with the more pop music sound, makes it somewhat difficult to look beyond the surface of the songs and realize their true nature. Other distracting elements include fade-outs on a few of the tracks, a random harpsichord appearance on the second track, punctuated lyrics, the pointless Cher-esque vocal distortion on “Face and Ghost,” and an unsuccessful attempt at emulating some of the greats of the past with the song “Voodoo Lady.” However, because of Kowalczyk’s incredibly catchy melodies and the band’s well-constructed textures, listeners will find themselves forgiving the silliness in presentation and the flawed experimentation. They will enjoy the songs despite their limited range, without concerning themselves with supposed deeper meanings.

Overall, Live’s new album is a throwback to their seven-times-over platinum album, Throwing Copper (1994), and their often-ignored first album, Mental Jewlery (1991). This isn’t surprising considering the lack of succes their much darker and more hard-edged third album met with -- Secret Samadhi (1997) only went platinum. Like Copper, The Distance to Here features power ballads and anthems on par with earlier tracks like “Lightning Crashes” and “Turn my Head,” as well as really rocking tunes like “Selling the Drama,” “Lakini’s Juice,” and “Freaks,” and it is these songs that make the album well worth listening to. Although some of the tracks blend into each other and some are just uninteresting, such as the mundane “Sun” and the cheesy ballad “Dance With You,” and more than a few feel like they could’ve appeared on Copper, in general the band produces a tighter, stronger sound and rocks harder. Among the most ear-catching tracks are “Where the Fishes Go,” “Face and Ghost,” and, of course, the first single off the album, “The Dolphin’s Cry.”

In comparison to the dark, somewhat experimental, and generally underrated Samadhi, the lightness and pop-friendliness of Distance is virtually blinding. Nevertheless, listeners will find that on its own the album succeeds in entertaining and being musically satisfying. One can only hope that their next album will feature a compromise between the rage of Samadhi and the naive bliss of Distance to produce an album that isn’t quite so affected and that contains a wider range of music and moods like their classic, Throwing Copper.