Monday, November 3, 2014

Song of the Day: Live - Iris

Objectivity is difficult even with the most concerted efforts, and nostalgia can be a powerful enemy to any attempt towards rational thought. We all have bands and movies from our youth that we sort of know better than to still enjoy un-ironically, but the power our memories have over us just doesn't quite allow for it. (Kiss fans almost all fit into this descriptor, myself included.) It's like we have a mental block towards seeing their flaws, no matter how obvious or egregious they are. Of all the lesser bands I got into during middle school, there's only one that I still can't quite abandon or label as shit-that-I-only-could-have-liked-when-I-was-thirteen. That band is Live, whose first two albums I still proudly own and thoroughly enjoy listening to. 

I don't think I bought Throwing Copper until spring of '95, about a year after it came out and had become something of a juggernaut album. But when I finally got it, I loved it and it became my favorite album of that time period. The whole album was produced by former Talking Head Jerry Harrison, and even though I had no idea who he was at the time, his former band would one day become an all-timer for me. To this day, I think every one of the thirteen tracks is at least some degree of strong, even though I can now look at them without the rosy glasses I was apparently wearing at the time. "Selling the Drama," the first single, is a great post-grunge update of early R.E.M. "I Alone" is a shameless Nirvana imitator, but at least one of the better ones (though the video is absolutely horrid). "Lightning Crashes" (the huge hit) is a fantastic song that gave everyone a serious case of the feels at the time, even if we sort of knew it was overly preachy and sappy. Somehow that preachiness hasn't even hurt the song over time, because it's still just too good, like an alternative version of "Dream On." "Shit Towne" was obviously a song that spoke to me, living in Muncie, Indiana at the time. Many of the album tracks had great hooks and the perfect balance of subtlety and rage. But my favorite was always "Iris."

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about this song, except that it's sort of everything. It's consciously artier, which I might not have known I was ready for at the time, but in retrospect I definitely was. It sounds angry in a way that isn't contrived directly from Nirvana, but rather feels like it's coming from a truer place. It starts with a subtlety that wasn't the same old, as every element of the song--bass, drums, guitar, vocals--each sort of have their own moments, like every second is something's solo until the chorus comes in. And man did I love that chorus. The drums start completely driving, like the best moments of Neil Peart on 2112, and the vocal melodies and crescendos were right out of the Bono/Eddie Vedder playbook. Then it all sort of quietly stutters and hiccups, like each instrument needs to awkwardly stretch for a few beats before starting the next verse. The lyrics also register as profound, even if they're somewhat unintelligible. I have no idea what "the felix of your truth" is, but I'll be damned if it doesn't sound important. 

Live haven't aged well overall. It doesn't help that they never released another good album, or that their singer became much, much preachier over the years, to the extent that they seem like a generically spiritual version of Christian rock. But those things sadly seem to cater the way we remember Throwing Copper, and I don't think that's totally fair. Yes, it was post-grunge in all of the wrong ways, but there's no reason that has to automatically mean it wasn't good. 

Or maybe there is. I can't tell because the nostalgia I have for this album might be blocking my rationality. And I'm good with that. 

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