Live: Throwing Copper - Album Of The Week Club review

Live's Throwing Copper marked the multi-million-selling sweet-spot between R.E.M. and Pearl Jam

Throwing Copper cover art
(Image: © Radioactive)

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Live - Throwing Copper

Throwing Copper cover art

(Image credit: Radioactive)

The Dam at Otter Creek
Selling the Drama
I Alone
Iris
Lightning Crashes
Top
All Over Y
T.B.D.
Stage
Waitress
Pillar of Davidson
White, Discussion
Horse

In 1994, Pennsylvania’s Live surprised everyone with second album Throwing Copper. It was an album stuffed with big melodies, emotive choruses and musical depth. 

Produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, Throwing Copper was a kind of beacon amid the seismic musical and cultural upheavals of the early 90s. It rode the alt.rock wave, but rejected the drug-fuelled nihilism and weaponised irony of grunge in favour of deeply rooted spirituality and relentless self-questioning that owed more to U2 and R.E.M. than it did to Nirvana or Soundgarden.

“We took our own road,” Kowalczyk told us. “We were this band from a small town in Pennsylvania with big guitars that pushed into this universal, spiritual place that wasn’t necessarily safe ground for a rock’n’roll band. That took courage.”

The album was written recorded in Pachyderm Studios in rural Minnesota, where Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks and Nirvana had recorded. Released shortly after Kurt Cobain's death in April 1994, it sold steadily, received a boost when the band played Woodstock that September, and then another later that month, in the most tragic of circumstances.

In the days that followed the Oklahoma bombing, a local radio station began to air a version of Lightning Crashes that mixed the original song with samples from news reports that emerged after the tragedy.

“It kind of became the adopted song for the bombing,” Kowalczyk told us. “People used it to mourn to. It soundtracked a part of history.”

The song’s raised profile in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing helped push Throwing Copper to No.1 on the Billboard chart in early May 1995, a year to the week after the album was released.

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Other albums released in April 1994

  • Lunar Strain - In Flames
  • Smash - The Offspring
  • The Bleeding - Cannibal Corpse
  • Live Through This - Hole
  • Weight - Rollins Band
  • How to Make Friends and Influence People - Terrorvision
  • Let Love In - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • A Date with The Smithereens - The Smithereens
  • The Fatherless and the Widow - Sixpence None the Richer

Alt

What they said...

"On Throwing Copper, Live tightened their sound, added crashing crescendos for dramatic effect, and injected some anger into their sound and songwriting. They also eased up a bit on the Eastern philosophy; the result is a more cohesive, memorable record overall, and quite an improvement from the sometimes overly precious Mental Jewellery." (AllMusic (opens in new tab)

"It is easy to poke fun at Live, same as any Clinton-era curiosity, and they certainly contributed to a regrettable trajectory for alt-rock radio. But they didn’t sell 8 million copies on the strength of Kowalczyk’s rat tail. The singles churned, charged, and soared as well as anything on MTV at the time, and they’ll settle in just fine as classic rock staples for Generation X." (Stereogum (opens in new tab))

"1994 wasn't as golden of a year as aging Gen-Xers paint it. Live didn't do anything terribly new or groundbreaking. The anthemic songs on Throwing Copper were songs U2 were doing in the early '80s. In essence, Throwing Copper is as quintessential of a '90s album as Nevermind, The Chronic or OK Computer, but in a different way: Throwing Copper sounded new, fresh and vital, while sounding utterly familiar - much like the majority of music that tried to pass as alternative." (Daily Vault (opens in new tab))

Alt

What you said...

James Doughty: A band with a sound that really cut through on the radio. They beat the sophomore slump here, bettering the debut. The semi-religious-sounding lyrics don't stand up to scrutiny in places, but when they do work, such as with the singles I Alone and Lightning Crashes, they are powerfully evocative and thought provoking. Creatively Live's reach consistently exceeded their grasp, which kept them honest artistically and led to some very interesting musical choices, such as the final riff in Selling the Drama, which does not resolve, leaving the listener in a state of anxious anticipation. 

Over the course of the album this emotion crests, leading to the expletive filled restaurant tirade Waitress, and the stereotype-filled White, Discussion in which the titular argument breaks down, resulting in the final line, sneered mockingly by vocalist Ed Kowalczyk, "Look where all this talking got us baby!

A consistently solid album, good at it's narmiest, bordering on brilliant at its best moments. Live would never be this good again, although on their next effort, 1997's Secret Samadhi, they made a mighty effort. Throwing Copper stands as the career defining statement for Live.

Ken Jackson: One of the hundreds of CDs in my collection but seldom played these days. I don’t often want to listen to the songs that were released as singles. They still play on 90s radio though. There are a couple that were not singles that I will play when I have the CD out.

Mike Canoe: I bought Live's Throwing Copper in early 1995 on the strength of the third single Lightning Crashes, which, for a moment there, I thought was the greatest song of all time. Then the next greatest song of all time came along and I traded in the CD.

Listening to it now, I'm not sure that I ever made it through the full album. We sure liked to cram those CDs full! While I don't feel like I've been missing out all these years, I generally liked it.

The other singles like Selling the Drama and All Over You came back to me pretty quick and are still enjoyable. I Alone, while a good air puncher, still gives me creepy Charles Manson vibes.

Of the songs that didn't make a memory the first time around, I like Waitress, with its clever double meaning in the phrase, "Everybody's good enough for some change." Iris is a good rocker but there's a bit of an ick factor to the lyrics. The others, while certainly listenable, basically fall into basic categories of "fast one" or "slow one."

Then there's the reason I bought the CD in the first place, Lightning Crashes. If I am in the right mood, it's brilliant, a great soaring anthem about death and rebirth. If I am not in the right mood, it leaves me thinking, "Gee, we - me certainly included - were obnoxiously serious in the first half of the nineties."

Either way, it may be the only mainstream hit with the word “placenta” in the lyrics.

Daniel Armstrong: For some reason this album always reminds me of winter… maybe its the production. Used to love getting up to dance to I Alone in the clubs, circa 2003/4.

Gary Claydon: I had a problem with Live right from the off. It's the name, see. Was it pronounced Live or Live? And if they ever released a live album would it be called Live Live or Live Live, or Live Live even?

As for Throwing Copper, well it never really did it for me either. I just couldn't connect with Live's 'glossy grunge'. The plainly obvious 'R.E.M. does Pearl Jam' (or should that be 'Pearl Jam does  R.E.M.'?) by way of Nirvana just gives the whole thing a familiar, heard it before feel. It's not a bad album as such. The best bits are when they let their hair down on Iris or the Kurt 'n' Courtney inspired Stage. The rest is, in the main, overwrought and overlong. 5/10.

Bill Griffin: Much like Skid Row's debut and Alice In Chains' Jar of Flies, I expected to like this album a lot more than I do based on what the radio played. Unlike those two albums though, what I don't necessarily like on this one is still okay; what I didn't like on the other two just plain sucked. This is an overlong album though (and I listened to the expanded version which made it even longer). It really could have been pared down a little and been stronger for it. Above average then with extra points because the radio tracks are really, really good.

Alex Hayes: So, this sold ten million copies, did it? That speaks volumes about the time period that it was released in.

I wasn't one of those ten million. In fact, I couldn't bring this group to mind at all, until an internal light bulb lit up a few seconds into I Alone. 'Oh, right. It's this lot, is it? Another set of lads that desperately wishes that they were Pearl Jam. Join the queue'.

Like a good little club member, I listened to Throwing Copper from start to finish. I didn't hate it, bur it really isn't what I'm looking for in music anymore. The material here just kind of washed over me in the main. Although pretty well produced, this is an overly long and contrived album for me, that I highly doubt I'll ever sit through again.

I did it. I endured another 90s era album. This wasn't one of the worst though, to be fair. 5/10.

Brian Carr: Late 1994 into the first half of 1995, I was winding down my four years of music retail. Before canned store music, we actually were somewhat able to choose what we wanted to play in the store, which had its great moments. Other times were a drag, though, like when my coworkers latched onto favourites and played them constantly. Live’s Throwing Copper was one of those albums. Even more than 25 years later, I’m not sure I could objectively review the record

Philip Qvist: I'm not sure if I am allowed to write a review for an album I suggested, but here goes.

I figured that this might be a polarising album; many would love it, but a fair number would hate it. Judging by the comments on this thread I was probably right.

Personally I like the album but it does come with a couple of flaws; incoherent lyrics at times and, what was typical of the 90s, a CD with a few songs too many on it.

Throwing Copper could easily have been paired down to 10 or 11 songs and the album would have been all the better for it. There isn't really a dud track on it (and yes, I even like Horse), but it does get a bit too much - and sometimes it is best to stop after Shit Town and then resume listening to the rest of it at a later date.

That all said, this is still a quality record; The Dam At Otter Creek, Selling The Drama, Iris, All Over You, I Alone and Lightning Crashes are all great songs and the production is also pretty good. Live really hit it out the ballpark with Throwing Copper - and just as well; the best tracks from their other albums can all be condensed into a single best of compilation and you wouldn't miss the rest.

This is definitely a product of the 90s, with record sales to match (incidentally I believe that this remains the biggest selling rock album in my home country of South Africa - which is no mean feat).

Throwing Copper features prominently on my Top 20 Albums of the 90s List - and for that it gets an 8/10.

Anthony Hawkins: For me, it's half classic, half barely average, but the good half is really good.

Nick Williams: An absolute brilliant album

Rod Smith: Great album. Lacks the social conscience of Mental Jewelry, but is a little more accessible.

Singer has excellent range and very emotive. Big inspiration to Daughtrey , if that matters. Very good in concert..they play around with the songs instead of just regurgitating them. They did what Creed was trying to do, but with more credibility. Very talented!

Greg Schwepe: Live’s 1994 sophomore effort Throwing Copper is a prime example classic 90s guitar-based rock. And by then MTV had been around for more than 10 years and you had yet another avenue to find new music if you didn’t live in an area which had several radio stations that played different genres. Where I lived there was a small upstart “alternative” station that played stuff the big commercial FM station didn’t. Pretty sure I found Live at the left end of the dial.

This is a complete album with no filler. Live seems to follow the lead of other 90s bands with the whole “quiet”, then “LOUD” concept. Quiet verses with acoustic or clean guitar passages, then “LOUD” choruses with distortion or fuzz kicked in on the guitars. This is done to great effect over several songs on the album. This is not a knock on the band… it works. While they did not invent that little trick, they seemed to use it in their favour. The first five tracks feature this. Yes, it’s called “dynamics.”

In listening to this again, I tried to mentally list the standout tracks for when I wrote my ideas down. Kept looking at the track listing; “oh, that one’s good… that one’s good. Wait, so is that one… and that one…” Almost the whole darn album. You get the picture. Basically this cassette got played a lot back in the day.

9 out of 10. Liking this one lead to me buying the next 4 Live albums right as they were released. Secret Samadhi was a worthy follow up. The Distance To Here didn’t excite me as much and I swear I can hardly remember anything from V or Birds Of Pray. Throwing Copper is where you can start, and finish if you never buy anything else from Live.

Chris Haggstrom: I became a big fan of the group after hearing this album on its release, and to this day, it's the only Live album that I can listen to all the way through without ever being tempted to skip a track. It's also a rare example of a band defying the dreaded "sophomore slump", where the second album fails to live up to the promise of the first.

When listening to the album now, I miss the confidence the group later found in their vocal melodies, which they let speak in less-cluttered arrangements on tracks like Nobody Knows, Run to the Water and Turn My Head.

But as an album, Throwing Copper is absolutely what I would hand someone interested in checking out the band, and it clearly demonstrates their identity, range, and power. I only wonder if this album was too early a peak for the group that they were forever measuring and measured against.

Dean Hamilton: It was gifted to me from one of my nieces, never heard of them till then, love the whole damn thing.

John Davidson: Despite the Jon Anderson levels of mystic gibberish that infest most of the lyrics, this is a powerful and emotive album that builds on the Seattle sounds and broadens it to a set of more commercial radio friendly anthems .

I danced my ass off to this album in clubs and parties through mid 90s so it has a special place in my memory. Standout tracks are I Alone and Lightning Crashes.

Eric Walker: One of the best from the 90's. Great tour, too,

Warren Bubb: The missing link between REM and Pearl Jam. It still gets a spin these days.

Cem Rüstem: Cracking album. And just like most music of that time, the production is absolutely bang on too!

Edward Boult: Great album, Greet Band !

Shomik Guha: Great album... stood up well to repeated listening.

Iain Weetman: Absolute classic. I adore this album.

Andy C Slim: Shit Town is brilliant, but love the whole album

Callum White: I still play this all the time. White Discussion. TBD. Shit Town. Waitress. 

Adam McCann: Good album, a 90s alt rock classic

John Higham: This is a fantastic album, probably their peak. Some commercial success whilst still keeping some alternative tendencies. They played a festival gig in Sydney around the time this came out, they had wads of mud hurled at them the whole set, yet still played through it. It was a little surreal!

Troy Smith: Loved this album and still do. Didn’t like their other albums any where near as much but this is a forgotten masterpiece.

Phil Yates: So many great tunes on this but one that I haven't played for years so very glad to see this. The R.E.M. and Pearl Jam comparisons are valid though it oddly reminds of British band James with louder guitars.

Graeme Cunningham: It just seems to build up all the time. Great album.

Paul Dryden: This one of one of my favourite albums. Not a bad song on it.

Chris Palmer: Cracking album!

Rick Foy: Start to finish an absolutely brilliant album. A band I always felt never got it’s just due. If you listen to just one tune make it The Damn at Otter Creek.

Pete Delgado: Absolutely love this album. Listened to it so much back in the 90’s. 

Dale Cole: A student of mine lent this album to me after it had just come out. I had never heard this music before. It is a gem. I saw Live about 20 years ago. Memorable.

Rick Rohner: Great album. One of my favourite albums from the 90s. The first song is a little odd but after that every song is good. Selling The Drama is also one of my favourite songs from the 90s. None of the albums they did after this were as good.

Michael Fox: Always enjoyed Selling The Drama, All Over You and Waitress the best. Good album throughout.

Richard Cardenas: Hate it. I could never get on board with this record and still can’t.

Alt

Final score: 7.29 (79 votes cast, total score 576)

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