Liner Notes

Live's Throwing Copper -- Ten Years Later

by Sean McCarthy


Kurt Cobain's death was marked, and in many media circles, almost celebrated a few weeks ago. His death was a symbolic end to the "grunge" era, even though grunge continued to live a waning existence. However, April 19, 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of Live's Throwing Copper, and with the exception of Live fans, the occasion was marked with virtually no fanfare.

Like Cobain's death, but in an infinitely more superficial way, the marking of Throwing Copper's ten-year anniversary can't be met but with a little ping of depression for those who came of age in the '90s. Throwing Copper put Live on the cover of Spin and won the band awards in the Rolling Stone Reader's Poll. It sold more than five million copies. "Lightning Crashes" was on radio ad-nauseum and was the favorite dedication song to many sensitive high school English students.

Fast-forward to 2004. Live's latest album, Birds of Pray, barely breaks 100,000 copies, despite a respectable publicity push. Their previous album, V, met one of the nastiest fan backlashes since Hole went California dreaming on Celebrity Skin. I know, I know, record sales don't mean much to hard-core fans, but I imagine that dedicated Live fans would celebrate if their band's next album cracks the Top 10.

Why mark Throwing Copper's anniversary? You could be a cynic and say that Throwing Copper would never have succeeded in 2004 and thus the anniversary should mark another more innocent time in popular music when "real" music (read 'alternative') could stand a chance to go platinum. And there is some argument to that. 1993-1995 saw bands that I'm sure wouldn't see the light of day on mainstream radio bask in radio adulation. Belly, Mazzy Star, Morphine and Garbage got into rotation. Hell, Green Day's Dookie sold ten million.

However, that argument becomes frayed when you look at the success of a very Live-like band, Evanescence. They made it big, selling about as many copies as Throwing Copper, and like Live, has an ability to write songs that come off as rock, but can also fit in alternative radio station formats. Like Live, Evanescence was fairly unknown until they had one big song that they were able to capitalize on and sold a lot of albums by a groundswell of word-of-mouth praise from fans. And anyone who doubts that talent still can't move records need only to look at Modest Mouse's early-year success with Good News for People Who Love Bad News or the White Stripes.

Besides, 1994 wasn't as golden of a year as aging Gen-Xers paint it. Live didn't do anything terribly new or groundbreaking. The anthemic songs on Throwing Copper ("Selling the Drama," "I Alone" "White, Discussion") were songs U2 were doing in the early '80s. 1994 and 1995 may have given us Green Day, Live and Rage Against the Machine, but it also gave us Hootie and the Blowfish and plenty of bubblegum pop. In essence, Throwing Copper is as quintessential of a '90s album as Nevermind, The Chronic or OK Computer, but in a different way: Throwing Copper sounded new, fresh and vital, while sounding utterly familiar -- much like the majority of music that tried to pass as alternative.

So -- how should listeners mark the already-passed anniversary of Throwing Copper? For fans, definitely give the album another spin. It may not be a "true" fan favorite, like The Distance to Here or Mental Jewelry, but it still is an album that holds up in 2004 -- a statement that many of Live's peers cannot share. And yes, it is nice to reminisce about a time when, in certain conditions, anything could happen in the Top 10 -- The Breeders having a gold album, Belly in heavy radio rotation and Luscious Jackson's "Naked Eye," not Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun" vying for the title of "best summer anthem song." God I miss college…

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