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After 25 years, Live’s ‘Throwing Copper’ remains alternative rock gem

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, August 1, 2019  /  02:42 pm
After 25 years, Live’s ‘Throwing Copper’ remains alternative rock gem

Reliving the glory days: Nineties alternative rock band Live released the 25th anniversary edition of its second album, which sold over 8 million copies decades ago. (Radioactive Records/-)

For a very short time in the mid-1990s, American band Live were alternative rock titans. Their sophomore record Throwing Copper, released in 1994, delivered hit after hit, culminating in the emotive ballad “Lightning Crashes” and reaching the highest positions of various charts. It has since sold over 8 million copies, making Live one of the major success stories of the alternative world in the 90s.

Its newly released 25-year anniversary edition album is a welcome reminder of how promising the band was, even amidst the drudgery of the post-Nirvana times. Copper remains a record unfairly maligned due to its creators' supposed alignment alongside the worst of post-grunge and their less powerful subsequent albums.

Live's career took a considerable dive after Copper. Though its artistic merits remain subjective, the band's 1997 follow up, Secret Samadhi, was considered a failure. Even though it eventually moved 2 million records, by the standards of the day and in comparison to Copper, it was a big letdown.

The band remained in existence afterward, releasing four more albums of varying quality before calling it quits in 2009, when vocalist and main songwriter Ed Kowalczyk left to focus on his solo career, causing drama with the rest of his band, who claimed he took unreasonable royalties during his tenure with them. The remaining members – guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey – then re-formed Live with a different singer named Chris Shinn, releasing The Turn in 2014 to little fanfare. By 2016, Shinn was gone and Kowalczyk returned for a reunion, eventually releasing Live's latest EP, Local 717.

Those post-Copper days arguably cemented Live's image in different ways for most music fans. But the record itself should ideally transcend those things. Copper is a solid beast from front to back. The lyrics were alterna-90s in the way they mashed the abstract and spiritualism, alongside the sentimental (and sometimes just plain weird, in a good way). The music was absolutely dynamic and catchy, using the quiet-loud formula measurably through its immediately hummable verses and choruses. Though its sentimental over-dramatics, both in lyrical composition and in Kowalczyk's stage moves, would eventually go into hyperdrive, Copper managed to push earnestness and wild esotericism as far as it could go without feeling resoundingly cheesy. 

The album cover for the 25th Anniversary edition of The album cover for the 25th Anniversary edition of "Throwing Copper" by Live. (Radioactive Records/-)

Best yet, the record had what the greatest records had – it felt like an “album” in the classic sense of the word and not a random collection of songs. There were solid singles alongside deeper cuts that take longer to brew but reveal depth after a few plays. It is not a greatest hits record where every song is a single but a reminder of how much an experience a collection of connected songs with different approaches can be.

All of the original tracks are in this rerelease (officially billed as The Super Deluxe 25th Anniversary edition) alongside a reasonable amount of bonuses that include their previously unreleased “Woodstock 1994”, nine song performances and three outtakes – two of which were previously released on compilation albums, and one previously unreleased song titled “Susquehanna”.

If you are a rock fan who has not heard the original record, now is the time to do so. For what it's worth, a good few would have heard the radio staples “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes”, as well as “All Over You” and “Selling the Drama” to a lesser extent. Like a lot of popular hits, the quality of the songs get overshadowed by its ubiquitous existence in pop culture.

“I Alone”, “All Over You” and “Selling the Drama” engage in economical stadium rock, efficient in its dynamic turns, shifting from clean-watery guitars to distortion with a mild-grunge touch that recalls R.E.M's most aggressive moments. Meanwhile “Lighting Crashes” patiently hover with its hushed verses before exploding into its crashing wave of coda, featuring the middle-eastern-tinged wail that Kowalczyk was known for. 

While Taylor and Gracey play their parts with efficiency, aside from Kowalcyzk, it is Dahlheimer who manages to truly stand out with his fluid basslines.

Opener “The Dam at Otter Creek” shifts from seething restrain onto gloriously noisy crescendo – both elements that Live would abandon in their later days. “Top” is driving melodic rock, “Pillar of Davidson” is epic balladry that manages to sound downtrodden and celebratory at once and “T.B.D” is all whispers and mystery, sustaining intensity throughout.

The record would also be the peak of Kowalczyk's usage of entertainingly off-kilter lyrics and metaphors that could have only filled the charts of the 90s – like “Oh Hitler, in the robe of truth” (from “Top”) and the indecipherable “The Felix of your truth will always fake it” (from “Iris”).

None of the outtakes exactly feel like they should've been on the album, but they are stronger than a lot of Live's subsequent releases. “Hold Me Up” is in the vein of Copper's rock songs and is the most immediate; “We Deal in Dreams” is the weakest and a pilot to Live's subsequent embrace of mid-tempo radio-rockers; “Susquehanna” is a soft tempo near-ballad that fits the B-side bill.

The Woodstock 1994 bonus tracks showcase the band at their most energetically raw and is great for completists who have long waited for the release of this live recording.

What those songs reinforce is the idea that Throwing Copper was effective in how compact and connected its tracks felt. Had Live broken up, this record would have likely gone on to build a mystique around it (the band's debut Mental Jewelry was also great) and seen objectively as what it was – a rock record whose very 90s tendencies were actually built around the era's best and idiosyncratic features.

 

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Live

Throwing Copper (The Super Deluxe 25th Anniversary)

(Radioactive/MCA/UMe)

 

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