The live album has always been one of those mysteries in life – who exactly buys them? With the old honourable exception, they’re usually a disappointment, failing to capture the excitement of being down at the front watching your heroes up and close and personal.
Live From Dakota is a live recording of Stereophonics’ 2005 American tour and takes its setlist from all eras of the band’s career, from the promising debut of Word Gets Around through to the rather overblown recent efforts such as Language. Sex. Violence. Other?. There’s even the old B-side and the odd unreleased track thrown in.
Perfect for the hardcore completist fan then, but what of the casual admirer or neutral observer? Well, Stereophonics albums have always worked on the law of diminishing returns when it comes to quality – Word Gets Around was a great debut, full of passion and vitality and it demonstrated Kelly Jones’ knack for writing well observed vignettes.
They’ve never recovered those glory days, culminating in the drab, anoymous rock of last year’s effort. Live From Dakota doesn’t get off to a great start by using Superman and Doorman, from that most recent album, as its opening salvo. Both songs are plodding, grey rockers, with the latter being particularly highlighted by some dreadful lyrics about a spat with a bouncer (“Well suck my banana suck it with cream”, would you believe?).
It’s a blessed relief when A Thousand Trees kicks in, reminding us of what was good about the Stereophonics – it’s subtle, thoughtful and tuneful, which are all qualities which seem to be missing from the band’s later works. Yet Jones’ obsession with trying to sound as throaty and raw as possible means that you just end up wishing for the original instead.
It’s a similar story with Maybe Tomorrow, on record, a light and breezy delight of a song, yet here it’s a dirge of major proportions. It’s also hard not to stifle a giggle when Jones namedrops Ace Of Spades into The Bartender And The Thief – if there was to be a contest about who could rock the hardest, you just know that Motorhead would win it hands down.
Over the course of two discs, this becomes very wearying and rather depressing. Stereophonics used to be a perfectly good band, yet to listen to Jones groan his way through the turgid Vegas Two Times, you’d never know it was the same band. Maybe the departure of Stuart Cable has affected them more than first thought – replacement Javiar Weyler, while being technically very good, cannot recreate the chemistry that Cable was such an important part of.
New song Jayne indicates that this creative decline isn’t going to stop anytime soon, being a mid-paced effort with another example of the horrendous Jones drawl. Things do pick up towards the end of the second disc with the energy of Too Many Sandwiches making it one of the highlights of the album, while Just Looking still sounds as good as ever, even if Kelly Jones does sound like he’s suffering from very bad constipation by the time of the chorus.
Dakota rounds off the album, and is actually one of the better tracks as it’s one of those rare moments of late where the band have remembered to include a cracking tune. Yet it’s not enough to save the album from being a tough listen – this is one for hardcore fans only and casual listeners will be better off waiting for the inevitable Greatest Hits compilation.