Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Live has drained any sense of drama from its music. Ironic, considering the group’s breakthrough mid-‘90s smash “Lightning Crashes” is built upon the wonderfully overwrought theatrics that marked so many bands making it big in the Grunge Decade. While steadily becoming a colorless, indifferent musical act, frontman Ed Kowalczyk has also chased his mounting fascination with deities of all stripes into an ever-darker abyss; first making known his love of pseudo-religious iconography with the puzzling 1997 semi-masterpiece Secret Samadhi, Kowalczyk has only amplified the gobbledy-gook with each successive release. Fond of fashioning lyrics that seem profound when sung but ridiculous when read, Live has become a parody of its muscular, sleek, and righteously angry former self. Songs From Black Mountain, the band’s first collection of new material since the backward glance of Awake: The Best of Live, is a remarkable modern rock achievement since none of the songs sound dissimilar. Twelve tracks of AOR-ready pabulum that run together like grade-Z lunchroom oatmeal: lumpy, gray, and completely tasteless. The songs are mercifully brief, none clocking in at longer than four minutes, and strap on a bib—the lowlights are plentiful. The howling blandness of anti-war ditty “Home,” the plodding “Get Ready,” the suffocating sweetness of “Love Shines (A Song For My Daughters About God),” and the piercing, overwrought “Mystery” are but a few of the sonic potholes marring this tired disc. As someone who endlessly spun the inexplicably catchy Secret Samadhi and counts Throwing Copper among the great albums of the ‘90s, it’s sad to see a once-promising band reduced to dribbling out a mewling, half-baked effort such as this, an album with no redeeming value beyond soundtracking your next visit to Supercuts.
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