The Distance To Here


Radioactive, 1999

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The beginning of the end.

Live's fourth album briefly forestalled the inevitable end to its career: a slow fadeaway, followed by a random comeback a decade or so later, like almost every other ‘90s-centric alt-rock band. The catalyst for the postponement was "The Dolphin's Cry," the band's biggest actual hit behind "Lightning Crashes" and also one of its more embarassing songs to listen to as an adult in 2015. It's not bad for its time, I suppose, but the goofy lyrics and raging guitars in service of a plodding beat are inert on arrival. It's Live trying to sound like Live, in hopes of recapturing the glory of Throwing Copper, so it's not all bad but nowhere near the status it gained at the time.

As it turned out, the time (1999) was splitting into distinct camps; one could follow team Boy Band/Teen Girl, or the nu-metal of Korn and Linkin Park, or the continuing rise of electronica, or Eminem and the burgeoning hip-hop movement that had taken over Walkmans everywhere, especially in white neighborhoods. Earnest guitar bands like Live, Pearl Jam, Everclear, and U2 were left standing alone, unsure of what to do next.

In Live's case, as said above, this meant ditching the overproduction and clangor of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Secret Samadhi for a more basic approach in line with the first two albums. Samadhi had moments of brilliance but was clearly a dead end for the quartet, so they reunited with producer Jerry Harrison and churned out The Distance To Here. What they forgot to add was a sense of humor or something to make this stuff interesting, to elevate it to a point where people would want to care again.

So, this ends up being another Serious Album, with the topic being love (a word thrown around in almost every song, line after line) and a number of leaden misfires that aim to fill arenas by sheer willpower. Fans love the earnestness with which Live conducts its business; when connected to dramatic songwriting, the results are killer rock music that stands the test of time. But Distance lacks the energy, the hooks, the X factor necessary to make music like this successful.

As with all Live albums, though, the real gems lie in the album tracks, and here the dark, driving "Meltdown" is an easy highlight, a sonic cousin to "Iris" off Copper but with a restless heartbeat. "The Distance" is strangely upbeat considering its blatant questions of faith; Ed Kowalczyk's vocals are all over his register and the band doesn't do much beyond the initial premise, but the groove they find somehow fits the song and the singing perfectly. Only the random appearance of a harpsichord during the brief instrumental break mars the piece; by the time you think to laugh, it's all over and the chorus returns. The nervous energy of "Sun" also is a minor highlight, even if the song itself doesn't deliver.

This isn't enough to make up for Live-by-numbers tunes like "Run To The Water," "They Stood Up For Love," "Dance With You," "We Walk In The Dream," "Face And Ghost," "Feel The Quiet River Rage," and "Where Fishes Go," which are interminable at best and which all feature horrible, pretentious song titles, a good indication of how deadly serious and quite dull much of this album can be. Live fans no doubt have stronger opinions about it, but those looking to explore beyond the radio hits won't find too much here to explain the band's popularity in its heyday (although "Meltdown" is recommended for anyone).

Soon after "The Dolphin's Cry" faded from the charts, the band did the same, with the three subsequent albums seeing fewer returns and the band calling it quits in 2008. This was the last commercial gasp for Live and, while by no means a bad album, it's evident that the inspiration was gone on this outing.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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