Desperation and girls equal good music for the Crows
By GEOFFREY RAHIE
Scene Music Critic
Desperation and loss never had it so good. After breaking on to the airwaves in 1993 with its hit album August and Everything After, the Counting Crows has been busy changing the sound of misery. Instead of the hard-crunching guitars associated with the early '90s, the Counting Crows has woven a sound filled with classic-rock guitars, keyboard backup and Adam Duritz's heartfelt vocals. The band's success spilled over to a sophomore studio album and a double live album released last year. Now the crew gets ready to roll again with its latest offering, This Desert Life.
Some critics characterized the Crows' second album, Recovering the Satellites, as a different sound for the band, a departure from August. Well, they were lying.
And if anyone says This Desert Life is a new sound for the Counting Crows, they are trying to be tricky as well. Aside from a few minor details, This Desert Life is typical Counting Crows, and that's not a bad thing.
A friend once said that she liked the Counting Crows because the inspirations for the songs are "real." Sure, most of the songs aren't too uplifting and could be classified as plain depressing, but isn't that what sometimes life is all about? Much like the other Counting Crows albums, This Desert Life is dominated by feelings of loss, rejection and other glum thoughts. The bulk of the tracks is either slow ballads or mid-tempo pieces. Songs like "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" evoke memories of past Crows tunes with its somber mood and sad lyrics.
There are two main themes running throughout the effort — Adam Duritz's complete lack of self-confidence and sad girls with problems. Duritz seems to always find a way to cut himself down. On the epic "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," he proclaims "I am an idiot" for allowing his life to succumb to chance. Maybe he is just an idiot for dumping Jennifer Aniston. "All My Friends" and "Colorblind" showcase his feelings of emptiness and pain that come along with the rock-star territory.
Once again, girls find themselves immortalized through countless songs. Although there are only two songs with girls mentioned in the titles ("Mrs. Potter's Lullabye" and "Amy Hits the Atmosphere"), there is no shortage of female names mentioned on the disc. "Elizabeth" makes an appearance fresh off her headlining role in "Goodnight Elizabeth," found on Recovering the Satellites, and there is a "piece of Maria in every song I sing" according to Adam.
On the strongest song on the album, "I Wish I was a Girl," Duritz explains how he pleads with a woman for faith and redemption. As strange as the title seems, the song is well-structured and puts an interesting spin on relationships.
Of course, there are a couple exceptions to the depressing song pattern of This Desert Life. The otherwise-gloomy CD starts with the catchy, upbeat rhythms of "Hanginaround," and finishes with the delightful "St. Robinson and His Cadillac Dream." "Hanginaround" seems to be reminiscent of some late-era Beatles rock with the standard piano and booming electric guitar phrases. Duritz even seems to enjoy himself on the track.
On "St. Robinson and His Cadillac Dream," a song about a man's bitter and often comical views on life, Duritz sings, "I might not be going to heaven/ I hope you go to hell," displaying the character's freewheeling nature. There is also a secret song on the album that does the best job of holding a steady groove.
One other interesting part of This Desert Life is almost all of the tracks are piano-based. Guitars are used more on this record as musical ornamentation rather than strong anchors. This is not to say guitars are missing — that is not the case at all. It just seems as though the band does not have to rely as much on a steady riff to start every song. Strings are also successfully used on a few tracks, not getting in the way of the band. A flute even appears on "Colorblind."
The Counting Crows has not changed much since its 1993 breakthrough, but the simple fact of the matter is there is not much changing they should do. Sure, the girls' names have changed a little bit, and the piano seems to be the instrument of choice nowadays, but the song remains the same: Adam Duritz is an unhappy man. Well, let the bad times roll with The Counting Crows. Everyone will learn a little about life and listen to some good music in the meantime.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, November 2, 1999