Over the last couple of years, Live have become the sort of band U2 used to be — earnest and hardworking, with a great live show, a reputation for spirituality, and a fan base convinced the quartet is more substantial than it gets credit for being.
So it shouldn’t seem too great a surprise that Live’s third album, Secret Samadhi, finds the group grabbing for the big brass ring of respectability. Not only do they sound more polished than on the sextuple-platinum Throwing Copper (1994), but the songs evince a greater reach, as Live try to match their massive sound with equally big ideas.
Too bad the group’s reach so clearly exceeds its grasp. As adept as Live may be at generating a big, speaker-rattling sound, the songs on Secret Samadhi rarely merit that musical buildup. Even if you overlook the pretension of a title like ”Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe,” it’s hard not to be disappointed by what the tune delivers: After hearing the band move from the moody, low-key verse to the punchy, power-chord chorus, who wouldn’t expect a lyric a little more meaningful than ”Angel, don’t you have some bagels in my oven?”
Granted, wordplay isn’t exactly this group’s strong suit. As much as Edward Kowalczyk’s throaty growl might suggest passion and profundity, any illusions of depth are quickly dispelled by the lyric sheet. Never mind that the album is riddled with mystic obscurities such as the samadhi of the title (it’s a yogic term referring to a state of super-consciousness); even Standard English seems a challenge for these guys, as demonstrated by ”Freaks,” in which Kowalczyk sings ”render her asunder” when what grammar demands is ”rend her asunder.”
All that would be forgivable were the music itself more eloquent. But apart from the first single, ”Lakini’s Juice,” which balances a brutally relentless guitar riff against a soaring, string-cushioned chorus, the album is long on drama and dynamics but woefully short on hooks. Perhaps the songs on Secret Samadhi will be more interesting live, but Live’s appeal on record remains, well, a secret.