LIVE – THROWING COPPER April 26th, 1994, LIVE released Throwing Copper, their third album (second under the name Live) on MCA Records subsidiary label Radioactive Records.
Had you cast your net into the sea of alt-rock circa 1991 to 1994, you would have been hard pressed to find many bands cut from the same cloth. The explosion of alternative rock was a melting pot of styles. Fans lapped up diversity, and bands of different persuasions and influences sat happily side by side in most record collections.
Live were an unlikely success story. Formed in York Pennsylvania in 1984, by guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, drummer Chad Gracey and vocalist Ed Kowalczyk. They went through various different names, including Action Front, Paisley Blues, and Club Fungus, before settling on Public Affection in January 1987. When the band graduated from high school, they recorded their first self-released album on cassette, titled The Death of a Dictionary, in 1989.
In 1990, they released an EP of demos produced by Jay Healy, titled Divided Mind, Divided Planet They played regular concerts at CBGB in New York City, which helped earn them a contract with Radioactive Records in 1991. In June that year, the band changed its name to Live. Later in 1991, Live released the album Mental Jewellery, which expanded the bands fanbase. Yet, they were far from the dizzying highs they would achieve with the follow up Throwing Copper.
Throwing Copper was produced by Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads and was recorded at Pachyderm Recording Studio in rural Minnesota. Other bands to record there at that time included Nirvana, with In Utero in 1993, Soul Asylum recorded Grave Dancers Union there in 1992 and PJ Harvey recorded Rid Of Me also in 1993.
If Live’s modus operandi for Throwing Copper was to strive for a more epic sound that Mental Jewellery, they succeeded.
Opening with the atmospheric, tension filled “The Dam at Otter Creek”, it’s immediately apparent the band is in no rush to hit the listener with a “hook” and reel them in quickly. The song is a masterclass in tension building. At about two-thirds of the way through, it explodes in frenzied chaos and welcome release. A song of this intensity may have alienated the casual listener who first tossed this in a CD deck but its masterful tension and release sets up the next song perfectly.
In tone, “Selling The Drama” is the polar opposite to “The Dam At Otter Creek” . It’s optimistic, and packed with enough jangle to rival REM. The song became a huge hit for the band. It’s clear and direct, it’s filled with hooks pouring from Taylor’s electric guitar, Gracey’s always powerful drum beats and Kowalczyk’s melodic and insistent vocals. However, it is Dahlheimer’s incredibly inventive bass lines which give the song an edge. “Selling the Drama” was the first of three singles from this album to reach #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Five singles in all were released from Throwing Copper, with three going to number 1. One song that didn’t hit the top spot commercially as a single, but certainly hits a highwater mark as far as quality goes, is “I Alone”. Its arrangement, on paper, is a tried and true trope of 90’s alternative rock writing. By 1994, the Quiet Verse/Loud Chorus shtick was becoming old hat. Yet somehow, with “I Alone”, Live manages to wrangle every bit of emotion out of this dynamic, and deliver a thrilling banger.
“Lightning Crashes” became an instant classic and is the most popular song Live ever recorded. Taylor’s flange-drenched guitar chords compliment’s Kowalczyk’s emotive vocals. It’s a story of life and death that takes place in a hospital setting. Musically, the band shows impeccable restraint and are careful not to impinge on Kowalczyk’s vocal delivery and storytelling. The song was written in memory of Barbara Lewis, a classmate who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993.
Other standouts include the Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love-inspired “Stage,” the apocalyptic “White, Discussion,” and the bass-driven, obsessive “Iris”. Of course, Ed Kowalczyk couldn’t resist throwing in a song like “T.B.D.” (for the Tibetan Book of the Dead), based on Aldous Huxley’s slow descent into death, aided by heroin. Kowalczyk was never one to shy away from the deeper side of things, previous album Mental Jewellery was inspired by the writings of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. So too on Throwing Copper, he delves deep into philosophy, spirituality and the tipping of waitresses (Waitress).
There really isn’t a bad song on Throwing Copper. In 1994 nobody knew it yet, but this album marked a tipping point for alternative rock. Many attribute Live with the beginnings of the dreaded “post-grunge” era. But Throwing Copper doesn’t bear any of the hallmarks of that movement. This is an album of genuine passion, depth and killer tunes. For a very short time in the mid 90’s, Live were alt-rock titans. Throwing Copper sold over 8 million copies and was loved by fans.
Live couldn’t match the honesty and immediacy of Throwing Copper on subsequent releases (although the follow up certainly had its moments). Anyone keeping abreast of the current state of the bands interpersonal dramas and dysfunction (which would make even Fleetwood Mac blush) knows an album of this quality is not on the cards again. Throwing Copper was a perfect companion piece for that time. A palate cleanser after the brooding, dark brilliance of the early part of the decade.