Maybe it’s the extreme doses of cold medication swimming through me, rendering my brain and functionality quite slow and sloppy, or maybe it’s just sentimentality, but I’m not afraid to admit that I once liked Live. A lot. Even saw them in concert. All right, maybe I am a little afraid. But to be sure, there are still enough people out there who like them a lot more than I do or did, enough to warrant the production of the York, Pennsylvania band’s latest, The Distance to Here.
Let it be understand that the operative word in the above potentially damaging personal statement is “liked.” I did like them. Why no more? Well, my general complaint, and indeed, the main reason my interest for the group has waned since the release of Lakini’s Juice, is this: they need to lighten up. Everything is all dark, and religious, and mysterious: life can be about other simpler, less drastic things. (Please don’t ask me to elaborate, it’s only a theory, a plea, if you will.) At last, after going off the path in the same direction a little on Juice, the band seems to have loosened up a little, though not nearly enough. Sure, the first single, “The Dolphin’s Cry,” with its lame guitar lick, lyrics, and Ed Kowalczyk’s plaintive growl/scream/whine (this man could sing the Japanese instructions in the Owner’s Manual of a Toyota Camry and make you feel guilty for Nagasaki), is possibly the worst song the band has ever released. And sure, the lyrics are as tripe as ever and still a wee bit too intense (“Oh desert speak to my heart/oh woman of the earth/maker of children who weep for love/maker of this birth…”) Is this gospel poetry? And yet “The Distance” and “Sparkle,” the former with its Johnny Cash-Leonard Cohen vocal hybrid, are less melancholy and almost cheery in comparison to others. It speaks volumes for potential.
But you know what they say about potential. Hence, more work needs to be done. Music this intent-laden needs to come across as less so. There is a certain level of eerie preachiness that Live could stand to avoid, so their songs, and the impending message, are accepted into the listener, not scared into them. As it stands now, the songs on The Distance to Here are just too important sounding to be enjoyable. You feel like you should be taking away more than words and music after they’re over, but what? It’s this type of sound and feel that wards away new fans and alienates established ones.
It’s been four albums, and the music has lost quite a bit of bounce. They’ve only grown darker with age and success. So is a rebirth in order? Please. Though it might be awhile before we hear “Happy Trails” or “Singin’ in the Rain,” a simple, self-mocking, oh-well song like “Lithium” might be the trick. Who knows…Live might come to actually enjoy fame and wealth and have less complaining to burden us with.