I’ll come out and say it right now: the absolute zenith of Korn’s (or should I say KoЯn’s?) art was the breakdown midway through the monster 1998 single “Freak on a Leash”. After an early ‘90s gestation period, along with other like-minded acts such as Deftones, Sepultura, and Fear Factory, the form of metal soon to be dubbed “nu” was attracting large numbers of young listeners who had grown tired of post-grunge alternative rock, and by the time the late ‘90s rolled around, the scene was set to explode. “Freak on a Leash” was a major catalyst in the movement; the slyly groove-oriented “Got the Life” was the big lead-off single from the Follow the Leader album, but it was “Freak” that perfectly embodied the suburban white boy angst of the period, an impeccable combination of chunky chords so bluntly simple it’s hard to call them riffs, bass tuned down so low you can hear the strings rattling, some hip hop inspired beats, and of course, some strategically placed F-bombs amidst plenty of “woe is me” sentiment courtesy lead singer Jonathan Davis. While the first half of the song effectively conveys the feeling of growing paranoia, Davis pushes everything off the cliff with an inexplicable burst of scat singing, culminating in an insane mosh pit-pleasing breakdown that has Davis alternating from coherent to maniacal in a thrilling display of vocal dexterity. Goosebumps, I tell you.
Eight years later, Korn has yet to top that moment, and while it would be grossly unfair to call the band a one hit wonder, they find themselves stuck in a rut that has plagued such nu-metal holdovers as Fear Factory, Mudvayne, and Sevendust. Peers like System of a Down, Slipknot, and Deftones have all managed to transcend the “nu” tag, but despite the assistance of pop production team the Matrix recently, Korn has shown little if any growth in recent years, content to just slog it out with a fan-pleasing formula. And fans they certainly still have, as last year’s See You on the Other Side debuted at number three in the US. No longer the band’s label, and in the wake of the surprising success of See You on the Other Side (released by Virgin), Sony has attempted to get one last Korny bestseller on the charts, but the slipshod collection of rarities it has assembled has very little to attract either the devoted fan or the curious newbie.
Seriously, with a band that has sold more than 16 million albums in the US alone, Sony could have put out a better compilation than the mess that is Live & Rare. The first seven tracks on the disc are actually pretty good, culled from the band’s 2003 performance at New York’s CBGB, featuring scorching renditions of “Blind”, “Did My Time”, and the ubiquitous “Freak”, but since the performances already appeared on the companion DVD to the 2003 Greatest Hits collection, it’s a borderline pointless exercise. A better tactic would have been to include the entire 70-minute set from that night instead of lazily tacking on the audio of the DVD.
Two songs from the memorable set at the famously unpleasant Woodstock 99 are included, but “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and “My Gift to You” sound like they were recorded in a warehouse, not at a massive show in front of hundreds of thousands of hot, angry youths (the high point being the neat Slayer tribute at the beginning of the latter song). The cover of Metallica’s classic “One” from 2003’s MTV Icon: Metallica suffers from both its truncated arrangement and the band’s glaring lack of finesse, but the one cover that comes closest to redeeming this mess is the live run-through of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Parts 1, 2, 3)”, as Davis and his cohorts do a tremendous job melding the tracks into a seven-minute suite that seethes with tension, rage, and despair.
Most infuriating is the inclusion of not one, but two hidden tracks from previous Korn albums. The “One” performance appeared at the end of Take a Look in the Mirror, while the cover of Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye” was originally tacked on to Follow the Leader, and their appearance on this CD show just how little care went into this particular product, and how little Sony thinks of Korn’s devoted fans. Say what you will about Korn and the continuing decline of nu metal, but the people who still go out and buy their albums time and again deserve something far better than this shoddy CD.