Release Date: October 29, 2013
If you don’t recognize the name Ed Kowalczyk, you’ll surely recognize the voice if you spent any time around rock radio in the 90s. As the lead singer of the band Live, which he co-founded in 1988, Kowalczyk released 7 albums in 20 years. While never reaching the levels of success seen by some of their contemporaries (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana), Live released a solid string of hits throughout the mid-90s. Although “Lightning Crashes” is probably the only single that has maintained a spot on some radio playlists, during the golden years of alternative rock in any given hour you would easily hear “I Alone”, “All Over You”, or “The Dolphin’s Cry”.
In 2009, the band went on a hiatus that eventually devolved into a break up and Ed set out on his own path releasing 2010’s Alive and The Garden EP (2012). Also in 2012, the other members of Live returned under the same name with new lead singer Chris Shinn (YouTube it if you want, but I don’t recommend it). And now, Kowalczyk returns with his latest solo effort, The Flood and the Mercy.
With the first words of the opening track, “The One”, you feel like you’ve reconnected with an old friend as though no time has passed since you were last together. Ed’s iconic voice has held up better than that of many of his peers. The sound and lyrics are definitely reminiscent of Live. Track 2 (and the album’s first single), the slow-burner “Seven”, incorporates a few more electronic elements, but maintains the same tone. “All that I Wanted” is another excellent mellow effort.
There are a few missteps along the way. “Parasite” is a typical late-90s album track. More aggressive than the rest of the album, it feels a bit out of place. In recent years, Kowalczyk has been open (if not outspoken) about his return to the Christian faith. The album closes with the potentially promising “Cornerstone”, a hymn-like, piano-driven ballad. The lyrics – referencing Psalm 118:22 – start out strong, but quickly become over- simplified and trite.
I had really hoped to speak with Ed before writing this review, in order to learn more about his writing – specifically. His lyrics have always been rife with analogy and epic, metaphysical language. And for this, we’ve never really slighted him. Consider these
Lightning crashes and a mother dies / her intentions fall to the floor / the angel closes her eyes – Lightning Crashes It’s easier not to be wise /and measure these things by your brains / I sank into Eden with you / alone in the church by and by – I Alone It was an evening I shared with the sun / to find out where we belonged / from the earliest days / we were dancing in the shadows – Lakini’s Juice Love will lead us (alright) / Love will lead us, she will lead us / Can you hear the dolphin’s cry / see the road rise up to meet us – The Dolphin’s Cry
Similar methods are found on The Flood and the Mercy. Honestly, they remind me of early metal (but then, I’m a sucker for Dio). In a lot of cases, I have enough background info on an artist that I can surmise what they are trying to say, or making reference to, but I simply don’t have that with Ed. So, if given the opportunity, I would have to ask him what the message is that he’s trying to send because I find I simply can’t discern it for myself from the lyrics.
You know, around 2001, Alternative as a genre fell off. A lot of bands called it quits and a few have continued to limp along when they should have turned in years ago. There have been a few bright spots along the way – Third Eye Blind’s Ursa Major (2010) comes to mind. But for some reason, the last couple of months have provided a wealth of new releases from the likes of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots (now with Chester from Linkin Park), former Creed frontman Scott Stapp, (his former bandmates now called) Alter Bridge, Dustin Kensrue (of Thrice), and a collaboration between Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones. It seem like there’s still a place for the music of Ed Kowalczyk – even if he’s only reaching a fraction of those he once reached. It seems that he still plays a good portion of Live hits at his concerts, so one can only imagine that the results would be stellar, if not nostalgic.