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“Looking back on Secret Samadhi after 25 Years: Discursive Autonomy in the Vast, Eclectic 1990s”

LIVE’s third album Secret Samadhi is strange. It’s strange for many reasons. Within the scope of 1997, for one, I remember the single “Turn My Head” as making an impression for just its, if not ordinariness, then, certainly, a particular tried-and-true method of conveying earnest emotion with guitar, bass, drums and white-boy vocals. In general, aside from this gloom-pop dirge (which to be honest has indeed grown on me over the years), the radio around this time is something I remember as pretty much subsumed with the “cutesy” — whether it was the burgeoning ska-punk of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the hyper-ironic retro R&B of Blues Traveler or the Roxy Music cover of “More Than This” delivered on autopilot by the sans-Natalie-Merchant reincarnation of 10,000 Maniacs.

Secret Samadhi is also weird in the sense of… well… just being weird. Lots of things about LIVE’s history and rudimentary makeup seem to dictate for them to be a band full of, if not quirks, then, it is to say, intrinsic obstacles to success which are bound to render them unique. By general alt-rock standards, amidst the Seattlite grunge flag-wavers and urbanites Helmet and The Offspring, LIVE are country boys, borne from the modestly sized York, Pennsylvania, destined to sing about driving trucks and skinning deer. Now, this is not to say that the band’s lyrics don’t equally carry any originality and analytical prowess. “Gas Hed Goes West,” for one, will always be an amusing little rant to me, apparently making satire of those who glamorize the “road trip” and seek to immortalize the American West for its sheer mass of space between all noteworthy points. 

“Lakini’s Juice” represents an interesting, stupefyingly odd median point between these two, as well as the arbitrarily allotted focal point of this post. Ed Kowalczyk’s lyrical landscape here blends the two ironic elements of Christian imagery and assertive, almost self-dogmatizing sense of purpose, hence disqualifying him, essentially, from fitting into any pre-existing mold of American society in 1997. Now, obviously, there was nothing lamer in the late ’90s, or any time, for that matter, than “Christian rock,” and, almost certainly, this is an exact factor which has driven off a lot of would-be LIVE fans over the years (though they’re not exactly a band that’s never tasted album sales). “Lakini’s Juice” combines an apparent worship of the virgin Mary with, as I mention, an element of egomania, and also, even more problematically, um, a toilet. 

But I mean, it’s not like they made it the lead single off an album that followed a commercial breakthrough. Oh. Uh. Can I just scrap this post at this point? Anyway, such awkward, vivid and unexplainable madness as is going on in “Lakini’s Juice,” per the point of this article, should stand in proud contrast to today, when, it seems, every mainstream rock song composes itself of, shall we say, staunch attempts at the constructive and pedagogical. That is, every part of any song by Imagine Dragons can pretty much be taken as some cheesy poet laureate speech at a presidential inauguration. Of course, there’s still our friends Green Day over there worshipping “junkies on a high” with an actually traceable ounce of subversiveness and irony. In general, though, “Lakini’s Juice” is to stand as a fine example, and perhaps even the final great example, of this great decade of music’s infrastructure of refreshing, revitalizing autonomy — all inner parts functioning with no regard for the others aside from the pure, unavoidable musical influence, which, in addition, they were constantly attempting to shed, for deathly fear of being called sensible.  

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