Songs From Black Mountain


Epic, 2006

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


When a band makes music for a long time, it is destined to lose the fire that it started off with. A lot of the time, the reasons are the same: the band gets rich, its members get married, they have kids, and all of a sudden their appetite to rock is not as vehement anymore. As absurd as it may seem, the regular things in life that are good for regular folks are not so good when they happen to rock stars.

Live gained instant success after its masterpiece Throwing Copper, and went out to make equally brilliant records Secret Samadhi, The Distance To Here and V, and nowhere in these records did the band seemed fatigued by its own success and glory. Even though slight glimpses of aging showed on the band’s sixth record Birds Of Pray, it still had a lot of punch that was largely uncompromised.

But the warning signs were pretty clear, and stuff on Birds like “Heaven” (a track which is basically an ode to singer Edward Kowalczyk’s daughter) and “What Are We Fighting For?” (a very naïve and rather stale anti-war song) could have easily infected the follow-up album, and they did.

With Songs From Black Mountain, it is pretty apparent there is a tremendous loss of steam in the band. Birds was torn between the former edgier avatar of Live and its new altered self that is struggling to make galvanic music, because there is hardly any edge left in the band to inspire it. Enter Black Mountain, and whatever edge was left on Birds is pretty much gone.

The main causes behind Live’s loss of edge are quite apparent, and most of which are things that the band has already sung about: Kowalczyk’s daughter, his wife, and the war; definite signs that the band is out of material to write new songs about. The dark and brooding spiritual grandeur that the band proudly owned has almost sadly vanished from its resume, thanks to age and other personal things that have seriously started affecting its music very badly. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Black Mountain is more pop-rock than grunge/hard rock. But one should not condemn the group for making a pop album, and this is not a reason good enough to blame them even though this music is clearly bland compared to the previous efforts. But why does Kowalczyk find his daughter such an attractive subject for rock music?

As if that wasn’t enough, is a song about Kowalczyk’s wife, with lyrics that go “Sophia, I need ya like a junkie needs his vein” really justified for the kind of music that he is aiming to make? This is the stuff that a confused fifth grader would write to serenade his very first crush. To top it off, another anti-war song was the last thing we needed from this band. “Home,” a repetition of “What Are We Fighting For,” is simply jaded. The band had done something similar on “Overcome” from V, which was great. But using the same formula again and again is not such a good idea.

There are a lot of elements that the band has tried to replicate from The Distance To Here, Live’s first record where the music had a poppy twist, which was so masterfully woven into the band’s naturally flowing rock urges that the result was the stuff of genius. But without The Distance’s fire, following the same recipe has a backfiring effect on Black Mountain’s music. “The River,” for instance, sounds like a shoddy rip-off of The Distance’s “Face And Ghost.” On the other hand, “Wings,” another track that has the same essence as cuts on The Distance, is remarkably beautiful.

Ironically, Black Mountain has amazing pop songs that one would have never thought Live could write. The album becomes very interesting especially towards the end where it gets pleasantly poppy. “Where Do We Go From Here” and the final three cuts, “All I Need,” “You Are Not Alone,” and “Night Of Nights” are as virgin as they could be. Uninfluenced by anything that Live has ever done before, these cuts have a fresh appeal and have the hint of the earnestness of Throwing Copper, only expressed differently.

Although a myriad of factors ranging from age to the changing of the musical trend could be attributed to the sloppiness of Black Mountain, one cannot be too harsh on Kowalczyk and company. None of the surviving acts from Live’s grunge era have the same edge that they previously had anymore. It is good enough that a band like Live is still surviving at all. It is not that Live has wandered completely out of zone; but if they still kick as much ass live as they did twelve years ago, it's a shame to realize that these guys just aren't as good in the studio anymore.

Rating: B-

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© 2006 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.