Retrograde: Live - The Distance To Here Review

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8 Abr 2007, 14:44

Secret Samadhi has been described as the “sound of full retreat.” The dark, brooding, and outright weird album was a conscious attempt by Live to steer away from the success they had achieved with 1994’s Throwing Copper. Samadhi was at times so ambiguous that lead singer Ed Kowalczyk said to this day he still has no idea what some of the songs are really about. The album’s beauty and failing was the fact that, at its core, it seemed to be about nothing. Live’s 1999 release, The Distance to Here, is direct reaction to the darkness of Secret Samadhi. Gone are the distorted industrial sounds of “Lakini’s Juice,” the anger of “Heropyschodreamer” and the odd lyrics of “Freaks.” In its place are lighter melodic sounds, themes of water, “God, Love and Spirit” and a drive for meaning over emptiness. These changes make The Distance to Here important to understanding Live as a band because it stands as the end point of one journey and the start of another.

Live’s first three albums were categorized by, amongst other things, by an earnest search for God or some form of spirituality. Kowalczyk has sung about the problems of religious tradition and dogma on songs like “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)” since their debut album, Mental Jewelry. Yet these problems did not lead the band away from spirituality; it caused them to go out and search more passionately. The Distance to Here puts this search in context and moves it towards an end with the songs “The Distance” and “Meltdown.” The songs describe two different way of approaching the search for spirituality. “The Distance” centers on the idea of accepting the struggle for spirituality. When Kowalczyk sings “I've been to pretty buildings, all in search of you / I have lit all the candles, sat in all the pews” he is invoking an feeling of emptiness in the world’s religions as he searches for God; he has looked all over, but the religions he has seen have not provided a suitable answer. Yet he is oddly comfortable in this situation as when he sings, “guess it's natural to feel this way.” The search itself no longer bothers Kowalczyk, understanding that it is normal and necessary. “Meltdown” continues this idea with a different approach. As Kowalczyk sings, “we're in a spiritual winter / And I long for the one who is / Fire amongst the dreamers,” he seems to know there must be some type of God and spirituality out there and is longing for something to give it form and meaning.

The feeling Live has reached a place of contentment and understanding is also apparent through the rest of the album. The answer to the band’s search is generally categorized by the idea of “love.” Yet “love” is left more abstract and open to interpretation than their later albums. Love does mean romantic love at times, the album’s best-known song and hit single “The dolphin’s cry” focuses on that idea. But other songs such as “Sparkle” and “Run To The Water” use the term differently. In “Sparkle” when Kowalczyk sings “love will overcome / if this love will make us men / love will draw us in/to wipe our tears away” the listener can add any definition of love they want. It could be about romantic love, but it could easily be about love for a child or love for God. And therein lies the album’s greatest strength. It provides the basis for finding answers; a comfort with the search, the need for love, and belief in something larger than humanity but it never forces the listener to accept any particular point of view.

The album has two main weaknesses. The first is while it tries to be filled with meaning and substance, it occasionally overshoots its goals. Hardcore fans will love songs like “Face And Ghost (The Children’s Song),” and “Where Fishes Go”, but others may see lyrics like, “I couldn't take it anymore / So I went back to the sea / Cuz' that's where fishes go / When fishes get the sense to flee / Breathe,” as the sound of a band trying to hard. The albums second weakness is sound. While the sound is more polished and melodic than the darkness of Secret Samadhi, it is too restrained. Many of the albums songs, especially in the second half, flirt with becoming full bowl rock songs but pull back at the last second. The best example of this is “Sun” that starts off sounding like an upbeat rocker, but when it reaches the chorus does not “explode” like Live’s other songs. The result can be a feeling that the band restrained their sound just a little too much.

The Distance To Here is one of Live’s best albums. Thematically, it moves the band away from searching for answers to providing them. The ideas of love present in The Distance to Here will be drawn upon and refined from V through Songs from Black Mountain. With the lyrics, “I'm aglow with the taste of the demons driven out / And happily replaced with the presence of real love” on the closer “Dance With You,” Live has brought an end to their early themes and sets the context for their next set of albums. While the album is flawed, it should be part of any Live fan’s collection.

Grade: A-

The Distance to Here is an album any Live fan should own.

- Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on April 2, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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