This is the seventh in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
If someone glanced through my music collection, they could probably pull out any album and I could tell them when I first heard it, my first impressions, and what memories I associate with that album to this day. Music is like that for me, very linked to specific emotions, specific feelings, and specific events. Standout albums that had a major impact on me are often permanently embedded in those memories as well.
In the mid 90s, I was just beginning to become interested in rock and roll, getting into the currently alternative music scene that had exploded and so I sought out new music in as many places as I could. The band Live was a group that I became interested in through my older sister actually. Upon hearing their album Throwing Copper, I became engrossed and they remain one of the bands I continue to watch to this day. This album of theirs has had such an impact on me that I still listen to it pretty often and it still recalls the memories of those days when I first heard it.
Throwing Copper was Live's second release and they were still a relatively young group of guys at the time, but deep songwriting combined with a hard edged sound combined for a bit of alternative magic that just hit at the perfect time to explode onto the mainstream rock charts of the mid to late 90s. Most people who grew up during that era can instantly recognize some of the singles that were released, with “I Alone”, “All Over You” both being quite popular and having catchy feels and choruses, and of course there is “Lightning Crashes” a building funeral inspired rock epic that is still the biggest single the band ever released. Still, along with these tracks, I feel that this album not only contains some great music, but also is one of the best complete albums of the alternative era, and maybe of all time.
The album opens appropriately with a slow starting song, “The Dam at Otter Creek”, that has a great subtly dark and hanging riff that draws you into the album and sets the mood for what is to come. It's a dark smoky sound, but isn't depressing or directly angry, but more worldly angry and slightly mystic and eastern flavored. The song builds repeatedly, pausing slightly to increase the feel before pushing into a hard rock explosion with a lot of emotion. Once kicking in, the riff remains but is morphed into a hard rock stomp that keeps building till it eventually fizzling out at the song's conclusion. This is a great track in its own right, but its feel absolutely sets the tone for the entire album and makes everything that follows just that much more gritty, emotional, and hazy.
To get a feel for the tone I'm talking about, take a look at the album art if you get the chance. It's almost like you're viewing all the music through the coppery, olive green that has tinted the album artwork photos a rusty, greenish sepia. You could also say that the bright red serves as a symbol for blood and the human emotion and the black is the darkness of the anger and sadness, but that might be stretching it a bit. Either way it's great album art that quite accurately reflects the feel that can be felt even on the first track.
“Selling the Drama” follows and is a catchy pop rock song that did well on the charts with good reason. It's lyrical content is slightly dark, but not so dark that it is depressing and could drive people away, instead just dark enough to be authentic. “I Alone” and “Iris” are both harder rockers with the first having a slightly menacing feel to its lyrical content but rocks hard and still draws you in. “Iris” is one of my favorite songs from this album, with its slow minor flavored opening chords bursting into hard rock thump, a driving base line and drum parts that builds into a full on arena rock feel, while still remaining that same mystic, smoky undertone, but does open up like the sun coming through the clouds for its center section. A great rocker of a song with some compelling lyrics and some great lyrical work.
Actually I think all the songs on this album have great lyrical work, it's one of the reasons I like it so much. The why Ed Kowalczyk sings his lyrics makes them hit that much harder, but still retain a feel that is easy to relate to, despite it's deep and often poetic mysticism.
“Lightning Crashes” is surely one of the greatest songs, at least from the alternative era if not all time. A song that is so instantly recognizable and so immediately and intensely emotional, that it can easily bring tingles to your spine or tears to your eyes if you let it. It's a song that speaks for itself, so go listen to it to really understand. “Top” and “All Over You” are both catchy pop rock songs. The first having a bit more of both a mystic feel and a funky baseline and while the second is a true pop rock anthem that is catchy, sweet and poetic, but still pretty rocking.
These first songs constitute what feels like the “first side” of the album, even though on CD there are no sides. The “second side” though, is where I really feel this album is overlooked, but gets incredibly interesting. It features a bit of biting social comment, moves through dark eastern mysticism, hits hard and then concludes with the perfect album closer… and then has a subtle coda. Of these tracks, many stand out. “TBD” is said to stand for the Tibetan Book of the Dead and also supposedly conicals Aldous Huxley's death. Also one of my favorite tracks, this song is truly haunting, but not scary, more sad and murky, before erupting in an outpouring of emotion that is accurately reflected in the roaring guitars. “Stage” is a bit of a dark look at the rock and roll lifestyle and what it can do to you, with appropriate hard rock thrash and impassioned screeching vocals.
My favorite song on this album is probably one no one would expect, especially with such hard hitting singles and such an overall high quality of song writing, but it's “Pillar of Davidson”. A slow burner with a lot of mystic blues flavor, it's a song that features some of my favorite lyrical lines and also some of my favorite vocal feels when the song kicks into it's final chorus, echoing back and forth with intertwined lead and back vocals that have a subtle chant-like feel. It's a song that has definite high points emotionally and just a great, deep feel, message and style throughout.
The album closes first with “White Discussion”, a somewhat dark world outlook, and another one of my favorites for both music and lyrical content. It starts with a bit of a funky riff before building into the same sort of hard rock explosive climax that recalls the album's opener, “The Dam at Otter Creek”. It's a great closer as these two songs, opener and closer are almost subtle musical echoes, one building to set the theme of the album with hard rock thump, and the other to tear it apart with the same power… And if that isn't enough, there is a hidden track on this album that serves as a perfectly subdued coda of a quiet soft bluesy ballad.
Although all of these songs can easily stand on their own, it is as a complete work that this album works best. It's a complete statement with subtle social comment through cryptically poetic lyrical lines strewn throughout that are sometimes obvious, sometimes amusing, and sometimes effectively subtle. What really makes it great though, is that it has such an all encompassing feel to it that is present from the very first track to the very last. They may not be stitched together ala the rock opera, and they may not necessarily have the same themes throughout ala the concept album, but these songs definitely all relate and work well together, even as they shift emotions and styles.
Throwing Copper will always recall certain memories of a particular time during my life, and so will always have a special place in my musical collection, but that isn't the only reason I think it's great. These are some compellingly well written songs that stay with you, are emotionally powerful, pretty thought provoking if you let them be and all work together to make a great, complete rock album.
If you're a fan of Live, you're probably well aware of this album as it was something of a peak in their career that they never really were able to match again. If you're not a fan, than this is definitely the album to start with as I think it is worth having in any rock collection. I'd recommend it highly to anyone who is into the alternative era and modern rock with some depth, if not to all rock fans.
It may have special meaning for me, but I think Throwing Copper will stand the test of time as one of the best albums from the alternative era.