Review Summary: Something you never expected from a band that became so predictable.1 of 1 thought this review was well written
During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Live established themselves as a permanent fixture of alternative rock, and mainstream radio. Their hard-edged choruses and endearing vocals appealed to a wide and varied audience. Multiple singles from 1994’s Throwing Copper are still on high rotation more than 15 years after the albums release. However, even with such previous success, 1997’s follow up Secret Samadhi, which reached number 1 on the US billboard charts, has gone largely under appreciated and unrecognized.
As with many of Live’s albums, religious imagery and references emerges lyrically thought-out. However, Secret Samadhi projects a much darker and introspective aesthetic, which defines this album from other releases. The albums first single, Lakini’s Juice, remains a song, which the band has never surpassed. Combining one of the most distinctive guitar tones and riffs of the late 90’s with a brooding lyrical exploration of human desire, obsession and destruction this track exemplifies the tonality Secret Samadhi aims to achieve.
Freaks, is the most unique and seductive track of the album. A sarcastic-tongue in cheek questioning of what exactly, I am uncertain of (incest, prostitution, adultery and religious persecution appear to be recurring themes in the lyrics) backed musically by a jazz-esque verse and grunge chorus. Every time I listen to this track I feel dirty, confused, yet reaching to start it again. Along with Lakini’s Juice, Freaks is a high point in Live songwriting, not just for this album but also in their long career.
Furthermore the disarmingly beautiful Turn My Head, and the as-aggressive-as-Live-can-get Heropsychodreamer represent moments on Secret Samadhi where we see a side of Live, which seems to have disappeared from subsequent releases.
But the album as a whole is weakened by a majority of mid-tempo rock tracks and too much self-parody. Graze and Gas Hed Goes West are enjoyable tracks with verses consisting of ethereal guitars under sparse vocal, leading into overdriven choruses, but this formula is also done to a much better extent in the album opener, Rattlesnake and the torch song / rock track, Ghost. Similarly, Century, Merica and Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe are all channeling a far too similar energy also. While not horrible or even bad, the common nature of the tracks can leave parts of the album feeling repetitive. Especially when between the aforementioned highlight tracks. The track, Unsheathed, illustrates the lopsided/ uneven feel of the album. At one point slow burning and uninspired, yet at the next the band is driven, experimenting with sound and pushing their boundaries.
Secret Samadhi is a juxtaposition of beauty and boredom. As an album the distance between the highs and the lows is its greatest weakness. The highlight tracks are so perfectly crafted, or utterly unique that other tracks look bad by comparison. For anyone who has had a passing interest in Live, this album is a must, just to see something you never expected from a band that became so predictable.