Ah, the sights, the sounds, the smells of live rock. Recorded at arenas and stadiums around the world, Poison’s Swallow This Live, INXS’ Live Baby Live, and Slayer’s Live: Decade of Aggression are accurate aural snapshots of what it’s like to be part of a crowd craning to see the action on a stage that seems two miles away. At the same time, they’re perfect examples of the sad current state of the once-proud live rock album. Traditionally used as a way for artists to stretch out or cover other people’s songs, concert recordings are now mere souvenirs for the fans, offering such tired elements as:
All the Hits, Performed Exactly as You Remember Them
Poison’s Swallow This Live has faithful party-hearty renditions of ”Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” ”Unskinny Bop,” and the band’s other corporate-glam-rock MTV favorites. INXS has parlayed two distinctive traits — a cute lead singer with good hair (Michael Hutchence) and a succession of pallid white-boy funk riffs — into a string of interchangeable hits, most of which (”Need You Tonight,” ”New Sensation,” ”What You Need”) are re-created note for note on Live Baby Live. Slayer hasn’t had any hits — no surprise, given their dark, unrelenting speed-death metal. But after sitting through all 21 soundalike tracks on the two-CD Live, you may find yourself wishing they would sell out to the evil Top 40 hit machine.
What would live albums be without inane stage patter, audience sing-alongs, or needlessly extended instrumental solos? Don’t ask Poison. Throughout Swallow This Live, singer Bret Michaels gets his fans to reprise ”Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and communicates his joy of performing with nonstop profundities like ”It’s a good night to be alive right here tonight!” (To its credit, Poison has the consideration to title its solos ”Guitar Solo” and ”Drum Solo” to make skipping over those tracks that much easier.) In contrast, INXS’ Hutchence barely acknowledges the screaming teens before him, but he does lead them through a sing-along of ”What You Need.” Slayer’s Live sounds like nothing but an endless speed-metal guitar solo. Still, the introductions to songs like ”Mandatory Suicide” and ”Expendable Youth” (”It’s about…every one of you!”) have a certain elan.
New Studio Tracks Tacked on as a Lure
A particulary irksome trend, in which our boys Poison again top all competition, with four new tracks on Swallow (including the current single, the Poison-by-numbers ”So Tell Me Why”). INXS has one, ”Shining Star,” which for some odd reason is placed smack dab in the middle of the otherwise live album.
That Contractual-Obligation Feeling
Each of these records is mildly revealing: Poison comes off a bit rawer than in the studio, INXS sounds a little less coltish without the studio gloss, and Slayer proves it can play essentially the same song at the same breakneck velocity for about two hours straight. In the end, there’s no reason for any of these albums to exist in place of a standard hits collection, where all three bands would shine brighter. But look on the upside: At least you won’t have to cope with gum on your seat, muddy sound, the wasted kid in the next row who keeps falling on you…
Swallow This Live: C; Live Baby Live: C; Live: Decade of Aggression: B-