Songs from Black Mountain Label: Epic Records
As one of the few bands remaining from the early ‘90s modern rock movement who is legitimately making a statement with new music, Live offers up Songs from Black Mountain, their seventh studio release in 15 years. From the opening strums of the new single, “The River,” the still-reliable formula of power chords and soulful melodies hasn’t changed. Much like 2003’s Birds of Pray and 2001’s V before it, this new endeavor tangles with subjects torn straight from today’s headlines, most obviously the war in Iraq.
Never one to bury his bald head in the sand, Ed Kowalczyk again raises the band’s lightning rod and lets his political voice rip. It should be noted, however, that Kowalczyk’s opinions have always had a spiritual bias – an underlying love of humanity if you will – both here and afar, rather than him just being an overbearing, “fuck everything!” blowhard. If he wants to punch you in the face for choosing abortion over life or for supporting a ban on gay marriage, chances are he’ll lull you into a peaceful sleep with song first.
On the kinder, gentler “Get Ready,” Kowalczyk preaches, “The future is now, the past is gone forever, we can come together, the light is our way.” You can almost picture him leading a packed house in verse at the local outdoor amphitheater this summer like Jim Jones in Guyana. Regardless of the theme, Live does have a knack for wrapping the darkest anthems in sugary, upbeat melodies. Given adequate hooks, even a tragic composition like “Where Do We Go from Here?,” with lines like “I wanted to dream, but you made me sleep” or “How do we face our fears with nothing in our hearts?”, manages to soar.
Whether a diehard fan or someone who hasn’t bought anything since the landmark Throwing Copper, there is enough musical life within Black Mountain to keep it interesting and make it worthwhile. Beyond “The River”, choice cuts like “Wings” and “Love Shines” stand out from a handful of mediocre entries. As with most prior Live works, the music is only half the equation. Listening to Black Mountain is not just about hearing a really good, tight band who’s endured a decade and a half without membership change. It’s just as much about taking a crash course in current events, politics, religion, and humankind.