Music

Ed Kowalczyk: The Flood and the Mercy

Ed Kowalczyk has turned to a new chapter on his second solo disc, losing some distinction but still showing his skill musically.


Ed Kowalczyk

The Flood and the Mercy

Label: Harbor
US Release Date: 2013-10-29
UK Release Date: 2013-09-09
Amazon
iTunes

Ed Kowalczyk is still on board the train. He still makes music with this mantra in mind: “Take the personal struggle and amplify it to epic levels, take spiritual confusion/redemption/acceptance and sing it to the rafters, accompanied by equally grandiose productions.” The overall style doesn’t sound stale. It actually sounds more authentic at this point. On the final Live album with Kowalczyk as lead singer, Songs from Black Mountain, the schism between what the band wanted to do and what was on Kowalczyk’s mind was growing wider. It started to show on the earlier disc Birds of Pray, but even as it showed there, they managed to recover from any stumbles they may have had post Throwing Copper.

As a solo artist, Kowalczyk’s wide-eyed spiritual explorations sound less constrained by the band he once led. This freedom is a blessing and a curse. Just as many believed Blur lost their way in the early 2000s after Graham Coxon left and there was no filter for Damon Albarn’s ideas, a similar problem surfaces on The Flood and the Mercy. Ed Kowalczyk is talented, but within the confines of Live there was more of a filter, more of a sounding board for what was a good idea and what was not. On his own, that filter is gone, and the absence of that is palpable on many a song on this disc.

A strong point of this disc is apparent from opener “The One”. While later Live albums tried too hard to get experimental while simultaneously trying to keep pieces of their classic grunge sound intact (and sometimes sounding downright awful because of it) this fusion approach is abandoned in favor of a classic grunge-pop sound. Lyrically “The One” is a different animal than this past track, while musically it recalls “The Dolphin’s Cry”. Live’s commercial fortunes had begun to falter at the time that single came out, but even so people still (more or less) cared about them enough to sustain their career. This fact is certainly not lost on Kowalczyk.

On his solo debut Alive he trafficked in the closest thing to dance pop-grunge he’s ever done with “The Great Beyond”. It was passable, but it sounded strained, perhaps a bit forced. This time around he opts for more straight up early-grunge thumpers when it comes to fast songs. “Parasite” may not be a very uplifting song mood-wise, but it’s a far better choice music-wise. At times the sonics even recall scratches of early ‘90s R.E.M. Given that Peter Buck contributes guitar on this album, it's no surprise, and these slight touches are faint enough to almost miss them, but they are there.

There are times when his culling from the best of his past leaves him sounding like a man who is starting to run out of ideas. “Holy Water Tears” comes off like a stripped-down, slower copy of Live song “Out to Dry”. Thankfully, this gives way to the energetic and less overtly self-referential “Supernatural Fire”. As much as this track is crackling with energy, what follows, “Bottle of Anything” is floating, awash in repetitive drum machine fills and is one of the rare moments where Kowalczyk strays from the classic grunge template he has used so well all these years. The difference here is this time it sounds natural. It isn’t the forced-sounding sprint of “The Great Beyond” but a reflective tune sprinkled with varying touches of electronica, echoed guitars wrapped in for an ethereal sound – the kind of sound he knows how to do well. It was a sound heard more often on Live’s debut, and not much at all on their work post The Distance to Here. The proceedings are wrapped up neatly with “Cornerstone”, a solid four-minute tune which uses an ages-old “hidden” song trick after a few minutes of silence. The hidden track itself is one of the few moments on this disc that feel most like debut album-vintage Live.

With The Flood and the Mercy, Kowalczyk has also mostly traded one flavor of spiritual musings for another. Unfortunately, his choice makes him less unique than before. It isn’t that his choice here is a bad one, or something to be criticized. It is more disappointing because he began in the world of music by choosing to expose listeners to something off the beaten path, something not that much explored. It is fair to say that most who listened to Live’s debut album Mental Jewelry, and those who later researched its inspiration, had never heard of Jiddu Krishnamurti before. The writings of Krishnamurti, which were cited as inspiration for the lyrics on that album, are part of what makes for a much more interesting body of work. This isn’t just because that work was off the beaten path of what the average music listener knows, it is also because Live knew how to take the themes and wrap them into strong, well-crafted grunge tunes.

Kowalczyk’s change of heart may have come from his feeling like he had written everything he could think of on that which was once his muse, and it was time for a change. Change is good, but this particular change has cost him some of the distinctive flavor that once colored his music. What this means for The Flood and the Mercy is that it is a solid effort, but not as intriguing an effort as those that came before.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Music

Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.

Music

Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.