It’s been a long while since you’ve probably heard the band name Live tossed around. For some, the last time was 8 years ago before their hiatus. For others, it was 1997… back when the band was gracing the covers of magazines like Rolling Stone. Well, now you’re hearing the name again, but it’s different this time.
Today marks the release of The Turn… the eighth studio album from the York, Pennsylvania quartet Live, and it is their first with a new vocalist.
A refresher: Live began back in 1988, exploding in the mainstream between 1994 and 1995 with MTV and radio hits like “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes”, from the album Throwing Copper (an album widely accepted to be one of the Top 10 greatest albums of the 1990s, reaching #1 on the Billboard 200).
After a long decline riddled with internal band issues, Live went on hiatus in 2008 when singer Ed Kowalczyk departed. Now it’s 2014 and Live has released The Turn with singer Chris Shinn (formerly of Unified Theory) taking Kowalczyk’s place.
It’s never easy to accept a new lead singer into an established group. It rarely works… apart from Genesis, AC/DC, and Van Halen. However Shinn brings his A-game, sounding as if he has done his homework and learned what he was stepping into.
Musically, The Turn is a big rock album. Tracks like “Siren’s Call”, “The Strength to Hold On”, and “He Could Teach the Devil Tricks” lead the charge in that regard; the latter being an obvious throwback to Throwing Copper‘s “White, Discussion” with it’s pulsing descending bass line and the guitar’s chorus’d effects. (This similarity is made especially apparent when followed by the final track “Till You Came Around”, which has the same country shuffle and feel as “Horse”, the final track from Throwing Copper).
Live’s music has not had any urgency to it in quite some time, so it’s nice to hear new life breathed into the band. Although a heavier voice than Kowalczyk, Shinn’s vocals are strong, cutting, and soaring in a very similar way. He perhaps shines brightest on “Siren’s Call” and “The Strength to Hold On”, to the point where it’s difficult to tell that there’s a new singer at all. I’d bet your average fan from 1995 could hear this current lineup and not realize anything had changed in the last 20 years, minus the style of the songs.
Don’t be fooled, however. This is a new Live. The Turn is not some sort of anniversary attempt at staying relevant, or flashing back to the past. The music here is, though familiar, still very new and comes out with all guns blazing. While tracks like “We Open the Door” will certainly appeal to older Live fans, “6310 Rodgerton Dr.” comes across as almost Soundgarden-y in style, with a chorus more in tune with Live’s 1999 album The Distance to Here. “By Design” is even more of a change for the band and is almost theatrical, a-la The Dear Hunter.
So is this “new” Live any good? Yeah, actually. It’s very good, and anyone with their reservations about someone replacing Ed should feel comforted once they let Chris’ voice ring through the speakers. Oddly enough, the brand new lead single “The Way Around is Through” is by far the weakest link on this offering.
Bottom Line: Although there are similarities to “old” Live, The Turn is full of surprises and a brand new energy. The band hits harder and heavier than before, which is a very welcome adjustment. It’s hard to replace such a phenomenal vocalist with such a distinct voice, but Chris Shinn proves over and over again that he’s the man for the job. A pleasant surprise.
Tracks to check out: “Siren’s Call”, “Need Tonight”, “The Strength to Hold On”