Secret Samadhi


Radioactive, 1997

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Rock history is littered with follow-ups to classic albums that try to outdo their predecessors. With unlimited recording potential and the pressure to create more of the same, bands will add multiple overdubs, extend song or album lengths, add new instruments and generally move away from the fire and spirit that made the original record so good.

Want examples? Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Oasis’ Be Here Now, the Beatles’ White Album, Imagine Dragons’ Smoke + Mirrors, U2’s Rattle And Hum and Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. And so it was with Live, who followed up the multi-platinum beloved Throwing Copper with this much-derided effort, though at the time it was a hot seller.

This album actually has a lot in common with Be Here Now, which came out the same year, as the commercial alternative rock scene was winding to a close. The songs on Secret Samadhi are unmistakably Live but they are longer, louder, full of guitar overdubs and lacking the sort of coiled passion and moody arena-ready grandeur that made Copper so good. Oh, these are arena-ready songs, too, but under the layers of noise, there isn’t a whole lot being said despite the alleged Eastern religious themes on display.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

However, this disc features three of the best songs of the band’s entire career and is worth checking out just for those. The repetitive, chunky riff of “Lakini’s Juice” explodes into each section, with backup strings adding heft to the drama, while the frenetic, aggressive, bass-driven “Heropsychodreamer” features one of Ed Kowalczyk’s best vocal performances on record and lyrics concerning a narrator wrestling with his homosexual desires in his dreams.

The lyrics are mostly seem to concern the allure and destructive nature of desire, embodied in the third standout song “Ghost,” which starts quiet and dark, explodes in the chorus and then settles into a burnished yet intense transition section that elevates the song. It’s indicative of what Live wanted this project to be and is one of the band’s standout songwriting moments, well worth seeking out.

Unfortunately, cringe-worthy lyrics and repetitive or bland songs drag this down and are the reason this one gets a bad rap. Opener “Rattlesnake” tries hard to mean something about teenage boredom (even using the word “ennui”) but rides pretty much one chord and a paint-by-numbers attack, all smoke and no substance, made worse by the most banal lyrics of 1997. Ed’s words are even worse on the mind-numbingly repetitive “Insomnia And The Hole In The Universe” and the truly awful “Century” (“Everybody’s here / Puke stinks like beer”) while the less said about the incest story of “Freaks,” the better.

Live fans are big fans of “Turn My Head,” a lovely power ballad that is a bit out of step with the rest of the disc but not half bad upon repeated plays. You can live without “Merica” or “Gas Hed Goes West,” and while I personally like the detuned power chord rage of “Graze” – featuring a dramatic guitar solo break – it’s not for everyone. The band would shift gears and scale back again on subsequent albums;  they also would see diminishing commercial returns as the rock world moved on, even though they would reunite with producer Jerry Harrison again (he was dismissed from this project for no real reason).

So, three great songs, two good ones and six dull ones with bad lyrics does not a great album make, but in this age of iTunes one can download the highlights and unearth the rest only if they are truly curious, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Secret Samadhi doesn’t deserve the bad rap it gets, and its highlights are among the best work of both the band’s career and of late career alt-rock in general, but the rest is too overblown, ponderous and lyrically bereft to recommend.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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