THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1997

By Sean Calhoun

They can’t all be winners – even in the world of #1 albums – and this year’s first album is proof. It was #1 in the US for exactly one week and has been largely forgotten. Let’s see if there’s any real reason to remember…

Secret Samadhi – Live (Radioactive)

secret samadhi cover

As a band, Live is a strange case. They were one of the most successful bands of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and yet they don’t have much of a legacy at all. I knew very little about them coming into this review, and in complete honesty, what I learned didn’t particularly motivate me to dig any deeper.

This album is mediocre at best and unintentionally hilarious at worst. From the get-go – opener “Rattlesnake” – it’s clear to see that lead singer Ed Kowalczyk fancies himself as some sort of brooding, introspective storyteller. There’s one hitch, however. Very little of what Kowalczyk says on this track (or on the album as a whole) makes a whole lot of sense.

Musically, the album isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking. There are obvious grunge influences – certainly not uncommon in 1997 – and the sound as a whole is very typical of alternative rock at the time. (The closest analogue I could make from personal experience was the Goo Goo Dolls, who are really a far better band.) This is not an area in which Live stands out.

Where they do stand out, unfortunately, is in the lyricism. As I listened to Secret Samadhi, I often wondered if there was something I was missing. I understood Kowalczyk’s vocals and recognized the lyrical content of the tracks, but never really managed to figure out what kind of statement was being made in any given song. The effect is that of words being vomited out onto a page and then sung with little to no regard for context or cohesion.

As much as an album like this can be said to have “highlights,” the last couple of tracks, “Merica” and “Gas Hed Goes West,” are both up there, if simply because they don’t quite sound like rehashes of the rest of the record. At best, though, these are C+ tracks on a D- record.

This album is a slog to listen to. Very few individual tracks stand out in either direction, and they all kind of blend into on another. It comes off as an attempt by Live to express what they must have believed to be big and important ideas, but which really ended up being neither of those things. The best thing that I can say for Secret Samadhi is that the instrumentals, while bland and rather uncreative, are well-executed.

I have to say, though, I’m glad I never have to listen to it again.

Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 3.6/10

 

For my second album of 1997, I made both a stylistic and geographical departure from Live’s grungey alt-rock, diving into one of the defining electronic music albums of the decade…

The Fat of the Land – The Prodigy (XL Recordings)

the fat of the land

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with electronic music. I was a big fan of dubstep when Skrillex first became a pop-music force, but as EDM has infiltrated an ever-growing number of genres, electronic music has started to get tiresome. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit an album that could probably be considered a ‘foundational text’ of a number of electronic subgenres.

The Prodigy is described as a “big-beat” act, and even for someone with little prior knowledge of that subgenre, the truth of that statement becomes apparent very early on when listening to this record. The production is no-holds- barred, driving and aggressive, with plenty of heavy bass and percussion.

The first (and most well-remembered) track on The Fat of the Land is the controversial hit “Smack My B**** Up”. The song is best remembered for its violent and provocative music video, and that’s honestly the most remarkable part of the song – its production doesn’t sound all that much different from anything else on the record. The other singles on the album – “Firestarter” and “Breathe” – are two of its best tracks.

The production is consistently dark and driving, and the album’s vocals, while nothing mind-blowing, tend to accent the instrumentation well. “Narayan” is another highlight, with strong vocals and multiple melodic twists over the course of the song.

If The Fat of the Land has one consistent flaw, it’s length – both of the tracks and of the album as a whole. A few of the tracks drag out longer than they need to (most of them clock out at around five minutes, with “Narayan” reaching just over nine) and the album’s 56:24 running time is physically difficult to listen to in a single sitting without developing some sort of exhaustion or headache.

In the end, though, the importance of this album on the development of electronic music in the 2000s is impossible to deny. Acts like Pendulum owe much of their musical philosophy and popularity to the groundwork laid by The Prodigy, and Liam Howlett and company certainly deserve credit for that.

Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 7.4/10

 

Related:

Meet the Interns: Sean Calhoun 

THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1996