frontman Ed Kowalczyk steps out with his first solo album, Alive
, a record that features most of the hallmarks of his old band without the undeniable hooks that helped propel that post-grunge
group in the 1990s. Filled with lumbering, spiritual-themed songs, Alive
is so unremittingly bombastic that it’s almost charming, but anyone who isn’t already a sucker for Live’s pseudo-uplifting songs will easily resist Kowalczyk’s barrel-chested fervor.
Is It Live or Is It Ed Kowalczyk?
Live came to prominence in the mid-‘90s thanks to albums like Throwing Copper
and Secret Samadhi
, which were chock full of anthem-ready tunes that merged the earnestness of Pearl Jam
with the plaintive vocals of U2
Though heavily formulaic, Live had their moments, but the group’s commercial standing soon tumbled once the wave of post-Nirvana
bands began to lose their novelty. Live effectively broke up at the end of last year, prompting Kowalczyk to strike out on his own. Judging from Alive
, Kowalczyk was Live’s heart and soul, although that’s meant as a bit of a backhanded compliment. Indeed, Alive
very much sounds like a Live album, but that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly good album.
Kowalczyk has often featured spiritual messages in his songs, drawing on Buddhism and Christianity when singing about the need for some sort of faith in an uncertain world. But Alive
is so relentless in its metaphorical content that it feels like a crutch. Whether it’s allusions to “water and wine” in “Just in Time,” the search for personal salvation in “Zion,” or the salute to a higher power in “Grace,” Alive
bristles with sanctimony. Great artists from Johnny Cash
to Bono have made great music about their spiritual struggles, but Kowalczyk can’t seem to express himself without resorting to cliches that fail to dramatize his personal journey of faith.
On a musical level, Alive
has a deadening familiarity for anyone who remembers Live hits like “Lightning Crashes.” Surging choruses, revved-up guitars, bellowed vocals – Kowalczyk milked this style for years with his old band, but what’s ironic is that now it’s been adopted by current bands like Daughtry
that have given it more juice. By comparison, Alive
feels perfunctory, which is especially deadly when your stock in trade is inspirational songs that are meant to lift the spirit.
A Few Bright Spots
Only two Alive
tracks break free of the album’s dull stupor. “Drive” follows the Live formula to perfection, offering slowly building verses and arena-sized choruses. And “Drink (Everlasting Love)” is a ballad with a pretty melody, although it has a typically inane lyric about a wonderful woman who “makes the Mona Lisa smile.” But on the whole, if you’re really craving some Live, skip Alive
and just go to their greatest-hits collection, which is called Awake
. The titles are pretty similar, but in terms of sheer listenability, the two albums couldn’t be more different.
'Alive' – Best Tracks:
“Drink (Everlasting Love)” (Purchase/Download
“Fire on the Mountain” (Purchase/Download
Release date – July 6, 2010
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.