I'll bet that Nick Harper wishes he had a pound for every time someone said, "Well, his albums are good, but they're nowhere near as good as his live shows." Hey, he may even have said it himself. In my opinion, they're just very different, not better or worse - but yes, I do have favourite songs of his which I like far better live than in their recorded versions.
So naturally expectations are high for Double Life, his first live album. Will it do justice to the mad, bad and enthralling-to-know experience that is a Nick gig? Can it possibly do so?
And the answer is a resounding yes. Double Life, in just over 90 minutes of music recorded over the course of his late 2001 tour, finally does justice to the beauty and insanity of Nick live. It's the next best thing to being at a gig, but it can be pretty close to that good... and that's saying something.
To be fair, this album isn't perfect. It would have been nice to have more between-song banter (ooh the banter - half the fun of Nick's shows!). Maybe the editing between tracks could have been cleaner. It's a shame that he missed out longtime crowd pleasers such as Radio Silence, A Hundred Things, and Shadowlands, to name a few - though to be fair this was probably down to his injured arm and its limitations rather than anything else. And damn it, it could have been longer!
But perfect=boring. And Double Life is most certainly not boring. In fact, considering Nick was recording it himself onstage using a video recorder, I can't believe it came out this wonderfully - the clarity is astounding without being too "clean". Even the legendary Harper stringbreaking is captured - twice! And if you don't understand why he wouldn't just choose a "better" version of Headless or Watching The Stars, without the breaks, well just listen. His a capella breaks while (!) changing the strings are wonders to hear. When the guitar kicks back in again, you'll feel like applauding him along with the appreciative audience.
A member of a Harper mailing list to which I subcribe said after hearing this album: "Awesome. Everything else is simply not music." I dare anyone who says they love music to listen to this and not to understand just why Nick's fans care that much about that Harper magic. Make this your first essential album of 2002.
(Watching the) 4.5 stars out of 5
Maggie Hornby's review
After months of anticipation, I got my hands on the "Double Life" CD at the Manchester gig. By the time the Holmfirth concert came around, it was nearly worn out.
Right from the start it comes over as upbeat and uplifting. The recording is clear, punchy and contains the raw energy so evident during the live performances. I especially like the different treatment given to "In Our Time", emphasizing Nick's tremendous vocal range. My personal highlights also include "Building Our Own Temple" and "Headless" (with "Love Is Music"). It's great to have all the live gig "extras" such as "Don't Believe the Hype" (during "...Temple") and "Guitar Man".
Somehow, though they are favourite tracks of mine, "Karmageddon" and "Airplane" don't quite work for me on this disc. They seem to have been performed with a "lighter" touch than usual. Perhaps this was because of Nick's broken arm? I was sorry that "Twisted" and "Peace, Love and Happiness" hadn't been included too, but then again I expect Nick was spoilt for choice.
The packaging is nice and nifty too, featuring plenty of photos. My advice is to go see Nick this summer wherever you can, then buy the "Double Life" CD after the show - it'll blow your mind and you'll be reluctant to let it out of earshot!
Stars out of 5? 4, easily.