Review Summary: Rather than being a progression for Live, this album is only a reflection of their older work - and a mediocre one at that.
After 1994’s Throwing Copper
catapulted to mainstream fame. The performance of ‘Lightning Crashes’ on the singles charts was phenomenal, and Live enjoyed a period of international acclaim. In the years that followed, there were two paths that the band could take. The first was to reinvent themselves, ala Radiohead, and begin to appeal to a more diverse fan base. The second was to keep releasing Throwing Copper
in various, ever more unconvincing forms, until they slowly receded into a land of obscurity, populated by tired fans nostalgic for the good old days.
The first path was, let’s face it, never likely to happen, and it’s true that the album currently under review, Birds of Pray
, has more value in nostalgia than as a work of art in its own right. Throwing Copper
was largely before my time (although I have, like everyone else, heard ‘Lightning Crashes’ on the radio more times than I can readily count), but I do have fond memories of ‘The Dolphins Cry’ and ‘Run to the Water’, and I picked this up based almost entirely on the strength of those two singles. I wasn’t entirely disappointed, but Birds of Pray
brings nothing new to the table for Live, and feels formulaic and uninspired in places.
This is basically a rock album, with the band not doing much to subvert the genre. You won’t find any strange time signatures, instrumental variations or twenty-minute songs on Birds of Pray
; distorted guitar riffs and chorus vocal hooks are the order of the day. The drumming is reasonably simple, although there are some interesting beats here and there (Life Marches On
). The bass is, for the most part, inaudible, and when it is it’s not doing anything spectacular. The band has a hard time varying the sound throughout the album, and so it tends to drag a bit in the middle, before picking back up again with the double-punch of Lighthouse
and River Town
These two are easily the best on the album. Lighthouse’s
simple but effective two-part guitar intro sounds strangely shifting and loose, and the bass effectively carries the verse, with guitar dead-notes and big chords providing interest. Kowalczyk’s vocal hooks are top notch – the man can sing, and when he ventures into the higher parts of his range it can carry an entire song. River Town
is equally good, with those high-register vocals intertwining with a catchy guitar melody in the chorus. Generally, when Kowalczyk’s on form, you’re in for a good track – other examples include The Sanctity of Dreams
and Life Marches On
, the intensity of the vocals in the latter transcending the somewhat silly subject matter (the song’s basically about how the country is better than the city).
However, when Ed draws a blank, everything falls apart. There is no better example than what is unfortunately the album’s opener and lead single, Heaven
. Here, the vocals feel flat, boring, almost insipid. The lyrics, normally one of the strong points of Live, are bland, as in such examples as I don’t need no-one/To tell me about heaven/I look at my daughter/And I believe
. Although the band works well together as always, they’re unable to rescue the song from mediocrity.
And that, in the end, is the downfall of Birds of Pray
. There’s just too much crap; the last three songs are well below average, limiting the impact of the two very good songs before them and generally weakening the end of the album. It’s too easy to skip through this record and just listen to the few songs that are worth listening to – and the ones that are worth listening to are the ones that are most like old songs from the bygone era of greatness.
If you’re a Live fan, sure, pick this up. If you only ever really liked Throwing Copper
, don’t bother.