One of the very few rock groups that can be considered a Latvian institution would have to be Līvi. From their beginnings in Liepāja back in the mid 1970s, they have been playing their own unique and recognizable music for almost a quarter century now. Even though they have gone through many lineup changes, their commitment to great and uncompromising music has been unwavering.
Līvi were formed in 1976. Fronted by the late Ēriks Ķiģelis, they produced many great songs from their inception to the mid-1980s (see the Līvi album Bailes par zinģēm, and the Feliks Ķiģelis album Rudens vēju muzikants for the only versions of these songs available in compact disc format). After Ķiģelis’ death, they continued to make exceptional records, each one expanding their popularity not just in Latvia but other countries as well.
The group have had a long line of hit songs and albums. Hit songs include Zīlīte (from the Mikrofons 1981 collection), “Dzimtā valodā” (which won first place in a mid-1980s Mikrofons song competition), “Ozolam” (from the Mikrofons 1988 collection) and “Lai notiek viss” (from the 1994 Mikrofons collection). Recent hit albums include Bailes par zinģēm and Viva.
My first experience with Līvi was with their self-titled 1988 album. My dad had bought it for me, mainly because he thought I would enjoy the album because the cover pictured a bunch of long haired guys screaming. He was right, and I have been hooked ever since.
Their latest album is simply called 2001, and it continues the same course set by the 1998 album Viva. The lineup is the same as on the Viva album: Ainars Virga on guitar and voice, Dainis Virga on drums, Jānis Grodums on bass and vocals (according to MICREC, he’s the only original member still in the group), and Tomass Kleins on guitar and vocals. Stylistically, the 2001 album is not much different than the Viva album, with short, catchy songs, raspy vocals and distorted loud guitars. This album has noticeably more “testosterone influence” (never a bad thing), as the overall album is heavier than its predecessor, and contains fewer “ballads.” As with previous albums, most all of the songs feature lyrics written by Guntars Račs. The overall theme of the album seems to be to live for life and to not waste your time worrying about small details. Another theme is independance of the spirit—dictate your own life’s course.
The album starts off with an uncharacteristally mellow first song, simply called “Intro.” It is a minute and a half of muffled piano and vocals, sounding like something played over an ancient radio, perhaps to ease the listener into the album. Or perhaps it is to give the listener a false sense of security. Once the second track, “2001,” kicks in, the listener will be wide awake, as it is one of the fastest and heaviest songs on the album. (Interestingly enough, some of the lyrics of “Intro” reappear in the song “Tik un tā!” in a more up-tempo form.)
“Dieva dēls” was a Christmas song that originally appeared as a “guest” track on MICREC’s Dziesma 2000 collection. The vocals are sung softly and the song shows a great deal of restraint in that it keeps the loud guitar down. Līvi make good use of an understated keyboard part in the background as well. This song reminded me of their other holiday song “Eglīte,” which is found on the Karogi greatest hits collection.
Another favorite is “Mana vienīgā zinģe,’ which is probably the catchiest song on the album, with its chorus of “Tu, mana vienīgā, vien Tu, vien Tu.”
“Cigarete, rums, meitene un zāle zaļa” is also a memorable song, with its anthem-like chorus, “Neguli, nesapņo. Dzīvo un jūti!” (Don’t sleep, don’t dream. Live and feel!). The song also makes the point, “Cigarete, rums, meitene un zāle zaļa / Kas gan vēl man varētu būt vajadzīgs?” (A cigarette, rum, a girl and green grass / What else could I possibly need?).
Another anthem-like song is “Rudens”, with its chorus of “Uguni! Ūdeni! Zeme cietājā, Zilajās debesis” (Fire! Water! Hard land and blue skies).
The only oddity on the record is the closing track, simply called “Coda,” which is almost the exact same song as “Intro,” the only difference being the lyrics are sung in English. I’m not sure what purpose this served, other than leaving the album on the same mellow note as it started.
Līvi fans should not be disappointed at all by this latest offering. It provides all that Līvi fans have come to expect from their records. The production on this record sounds better than on Viva, as that album sounded muddy in various places. Līvi are not a highly experimental band, and they don’t need to be. They are as dependable a band as any in today’s world of rock and roll, be they Latvian or be they from any other country. The sound and songs are familiar without being tired or predictable. This is the kind of record that makes me want to pick up my guitar and start to play (I’ve already started to learn some of the songs on the record), and should be a welcome addition to the music library of anyone who has even the slightest appreciation for Latvian rock music.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on SVEIKS.com.)
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