Music

Ed Kowalczyk: Alive

The ridiculousness, it just keeps happening.


Ed Kowalczyk

Alive

Label: Megaforce
US Release Date: 2010-07-06
UK Release Date: 2010-07-12
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

The very first thing Ed Kowalczyk gives us on Alive, his first solo effort, is a driving metaphor, squeezed like an orange and twisted like a lemon. The song is called "Drive", after all, and as such, the chorus must consist entirely of such a metaphor. Here it goes:

Here I am standing inside your love

Like a child falling asleep at the wheel

Of my life, and letting you drive

I'm letting you drive

Here I am right where I belong

On the shoulder, handing off the keys

Close my eyes, and letting you drive

I'm letting you drive

In capable hands, a songwriter can get some solid mileage out of a driving metaphor. Michael Stipe did ("Drive"), Jakob Dylan did ("One Headlight"), hell, the Beatles did (yes, "Drive My Car"). Kowalczyk's hands, it seems, are no longer capable of crafting this sort of metaphor into anything meaningful, much less intelligible. Ignoring for a second the confusion of tense that appears in the second half of the refrain (which admittedly only happens once, at the end of the song), the primary, repeated refrain can't even decide whether the act of handing over the wheel is intentional or not. "Falling asleep at the wheel" implies an unconscious, accidental sort of ceding of responsibility, even as "letting you drive" and the later "handing off the keys" indicate trust and a reasoned decision. Which is it? Is it both? Is it neither? Why would a child be at the wheel anyway?

And even amongst all of this confusion, this metaphor choked to the point of meaninglessness, Kowalczyk finds the time to insult our intelligence with the words "of my life". Those words appear just in case the metaphor was flying over his listener's heads, you see.

Given Kowalczyk's history as a songwriter, it's easy to give him the benefit of the doubt. As the lead vocalist of Live, Kowalczyk's righteous fury and earnest, searching spirit earned the band a devoted group of fans left behind by Seattle's grime. "Lightning Crashes" is one of the few lasting anthems of the '90s, a "Circle of Life"-style parable that actually comes across as sincere and authentic thanks largely to the vivid imagery of Kowalczyk's lyrics.

The benefit of the doubt should allow us to see "Drive" as an aberration. And we do, until "Drink (Everlasting Love)" arrives with a refrain that is every bit as awful as "Drive":

Now I'll drink you like water

Drink you like freedom

Drink you like the nectar that falls from Eden

Drink you like water

Drink you like the everlasting love

So...you drink freedom? You drink "everlasting love"? Is Eden in the sky? Why is nectar falling from it?

What in God's name is Kowalczyk talking about?

This ridiculousness, it just keeps happening. "In Your Light" is the requisite ode to his children, a trick he pulled off on Live's "Heaven" by putting his kids in a chorus that swooped and soared. It starts off just fine, personal and a little bit touching, but eventually he's singing about mountains and valleys and he loses us. In "Rome", he gives up on lyrics altogether for the chorus, content to sing "oh oh ohohoh" over and over again, before pronouncing that "this love will shine on". "Stand" turns the central theme of the best track on 1991's Mental Jewelry (that would be "The Beauty of Gray") into a trite exercise in cliché ("What are we fighting for?" and "Stand tall with me!" both appear over and over in the song), ditching the intensity and earnestness of youth for know-it-all treacle.

Alive's lead single (and best song) "Grace" is being pushed to Christian Rock Radio, which is understandable -- while Jesus Christ is never specifically namechecked on the album in another hollow attempt at alienating nobody, it's clear that he's the inspiration for much of it. This is not something to hold against it. Rather, it's unfortunate that it falls into so many of the pitfalls associated with the genre. Rather than being an exciting album from an established artist with the potential to push the bounds of the genre beyond the overpowering sentiment and preachiness that genre is so associated with, Kowalczyk has fallen into every single one of its weaknesses.

Why so much time on the lyrics? Because it sounds like Live. It sounds like the worst parts of Live. It sounds like musicians who can actually play trapped in the bounds of '90s-era AOR. There's just not much to talk about.

There's nothing fun about this. There's nothing fun about tearing down an artist that once commanded so much respect, an artist who once seemed above the drama and the angst that rock music was mired in. If Alive is truly a rebirth for Kowalczyk, if he truly believes what he's saying and he's moved beyond the band he fronted for so many years, then good for him. Chalk this review up to a matter of taste. What it looks like, however, is an album whose title is a direct swipe at the band that made him, an album featuring an artist who refuses to be edited, an album that deals in a calculated sort of emotional manipulation that comes up short of its targets in every conceivable way.

This isn't fun. It's depressing.

2

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image