Live – Songs from Black Mountain (2006)
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Live - Songs from Black Mountain

Am I the only person perplexed by the fact that Live has a major-label deal in 2006?

I’m not really trying to be funny. It’s just, you know, look at the other bands who crested the post-grunge wave that took Live to horribly overplayed heights in the mid-’90s — where are the guys from Sponge today? Candlebox? Seven Mary Three? Even the ones still making music aren’t cashing major-label checks. The band was never a major presence on Top 40 radio — according to the AMG, even the inescapable “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes” didn’t chart on the Hot 100 — but even by genre chart standards, Live has been on a downward slope since at least the turn of the century.

And yet here they are, signed to Epic, releasing the vaguely pornographically titled Songs from Black Mountain. The album makes a couple of things clear to the casual listener:

1. Ed Kowalczyk’s hysterical, grandiose posturing and grating vocal histrionics helped pave the way for Scott Stapp.
2. Live never was, and is not now, anything more than a mediocre arena rock band with fuzzy spiritual overtones.

You think I’m going to bag heavy on this record, but I’m not, because it really isn’t terrible, as long as you don’t pay attention to the words, or the titles of songs like “Love Shines (A Song for My Daughters About God)” (download). If you do pay attention to those things, Black Mountain is a screamer of an album, one that wobbles between meaningless New Age dribble and jaw-dropping narcissism (sometimes within the same song). But as mid-tempo dashboard rock, it isn’t the worst thing you’ve ever heard. In fact, even Kowalczyk’s trademark banshee howl has mellowed a bit with age; check out “All I Need” (download) for proof.