Rediscovering: Live’s Throwing Copper

You know, I think I realized why the 90’s get made fun of so much by random nobodies in the A.V. Club’s comments section. What a strange and magical time when weird music was allowed to exist in the mainstream! And wherever there’s weird, there’s a peanut gallery looking to take cheap shots. But can one of the biggest weird bands to grace 90’s radio grace our hearts and minds, and most importantly the keep pile, as well? Let’s find out.

Live's Throwing Copper

Throwing Copper, the 1994 breakthrough album from York, Pennsylvania(!)-based band Live.

My previous experience, if any

This is one of those eternal Main Street Jukebox pickups I recognized well enough as a teenager, gave it a brief shot, and never picked up again. I never did forget it, though, because I ate up 90’s radio rock as a young’un, and this is one of the finest examples of the lot. In case you’re curious, York is about a two hour drive from Stroudsburg where I’m based; the only successful band to have been born closer is Breaking Benjamin. I find that pretty neat.

The history lesson

As I implied, if you’ve spent any time listening to rock radio in the US, you’ve heard “Lightning Crashes” or “All Over You” at some point. This album spawned no less than five singles, three of which were gigantic and the other two did well enough also. It might’ve done gangbusters, but singer Ed Kowalczyk’s mystic leanings and their huge, polished, lunging sound effectively made them the dress rehearsal for Creed, and Live’s career couldn’t quite sustain itself past Throwing Copper.


Man, where to begin with this one? Well first–yes. This album is fucking awesome, and if you like any of the singles, there is plenty of that here. (I only realized halfway through writing this how difficult it is to describe the sound of 90’s radio rock because I’m so damn used to it, but I will try anyway.)

“The Dam at Otter Creek” (the first of many references to York on here, and a photo of the campgrounds actually graces the back of the jewel case) definitely doesn’t fit the bill as an opener. It’s strange and eerie, goes nowhere, and sounds nothing like what follows. It is, however, a good example of Ed’s vocal quirks, his marble-mouthed whispering morphing into marble-mouthed vocalizing over chiming guitar chords. It’s about as weird as his singing gets.

A better introduction to Throwing Copper‘s charms comes on the second track, “Selling the Drama”, one of the less popular singles (though a tall favorite for me) and one that I am 100% sure I’ve heard somewhere before. Live manages to build the track out from three different hooks; the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus are all highly catchy. Live really do master the art of melodic verses and heavy, booming choruses with an awesome snare sound, making full use of Pachyderm Studios’ excellent acoustics.

Really, Live’s sound, heavy but not overbearing, loud but not terribly noisy, is what makes this album great and what invites the mockery. Once heavier, angstier rock became mainstream in the 90’s, plenty of bands immediately stepped up to temper the noise with songwriting. Good for us normal people, but some felt bands like Live, Bush, Silverchair, and later Matchbox Twenty and the like were selling that sound out to the highest bidder.

Is it particularly challenging rock music? No, but I wouldn’t like it as much if it was. This album was very audibly written as a masterwork, a sharp sound of meaty-but-melodic guitars, thunder clap drums, and a whacked out vocalist shouting from a cliffside, all killer, no filler and a certain special spin on it that helps it to stand out even more. The idea that rock music should be scary and off-putting, while certainly an appealing platitude, doesn’t really happen in the real world. It’s all pop music at the end of the day. Live just admit it more readily.

If anything, Live’s propensity towards grave spiritual matters honestly helps to make their sound a little more impactful. “Lightning Crashes” depicts childbirth and death happening in the same place, a sort of transfer of life, and the song is still as a snapshot to match it. “I Alone” emphasizes enlightenment as something only the person seeking it can find for themselves, and it indeed creates a nice hailstorm on the chorus and leaves you there with the backing vocals keeping you company. “Drama” is a rallying cry for not being shaken in your beliefs.

It’s not a whole 60 minutes of heady lyrical matter, granted. “Waitress” is honestly one of my favorites lyrically, and it’s probably the simplest one on here: it’s quite literally a debate about whether to tip a waitress. I’ve gone to dinner with folks that are utterly impatient with their wait staff, and Ed’s point is my own: she brought our food out on time, and she’s a person who needs money too, even if she was kind of a bitch. Why the fuck not.

The thing that keeps all this from sounding too preachy and melodramatic is that the songs work on multiple levels. Even if you don’t know the lyrics, they’re catchy. If you read the lyrics cursorily, it’s mostly a lot of pretty, dramatic imagery (sample: “The angel opens her eyes/Pale blue colored iris/Presents the circle/Puts the glory out to hide”). If you dig into them, there’s where you get the meanings, whatever you take from them. Like a lot of great pop music, “I Alone” could be a love song, or it could be a hell of a lot deeper than that.

In a way, this reminds me a lot of Make Yourself, another album we’ve covered on Rediscovering. Both featured very contemporary (though now certainly dated) sounds, both are very vocally-distinct loud rock music, and the lyrics on both manage to be decently positive music without sounding wimpy–a much different tone on normally very angsty music. They share something else in common: they were both surprise favorites of mine.

This isn’t a perfect album; “T.B.D.” (the Tibetan Book of the Dead, apparently as read to Aldous Huxley as he lay dying) is a quiet pacing killer, and there’s one too many long songs right at the end (though the twangy Western “secret” closer “Horse” is pretty killer, sorta like Days of the New before they were properly a thing). But man, did I enjoy this one. It felt like a bit of a homecoming, something I would’ve devoured at 13 years old alongside Superunknown and Doolittle. I really should’ve tried it earlier.

Are you keeping it?

Oh yeah.

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