It’s been a long time since the Counting Crows, one of my favorite bands, has put out a studio album. Every Crow’s album is a mood swinger, from their folksy debut with August & Everything After, to its aggressive rock follow up, Recovering the Satellites, the laid back This Desert Life and the pop-friendly Hard Candy.
Their latest, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, is a double disc album, with the first half representing a crazy Saturday Night, covered with bare-knuckle guitar riffs, and a cacophony of instruments that some how sound harmonious; while the second half, Sunday Mornings, is the inevitable melancholic hangover, with mellow, melodic tunes. Saturday Nights, are six tracks filled with self-defeating protagonists searching for a quick fix, while Sunday Mornings are all about self-contemplative regrets; to string it all along, Adam Duritz brings back his trademark storytelling, heartfelt, self-critical lyrics he’s known for: “Where Saturday’s a memory, And Sunday comes to gather me/Into the arms of God who welcome me, Because I believe”.
The opener, “1492”, is Duritz taking whirling swings at himself, lost somewhere in the burning disco lights of the Italian underground and Columbus pseudo-discoveries, asking: “where do we disappear, into the silence that surrounds us and then drowns us in the end”. The follow up, “Hanging Tree”, may be one of the Crow’s best songs. Confusingly cheerful, it is both radio-friendly and balladesque: “I am a child of fire/I am a lion/I have desires/and I was born inside the Sun this morning”.
Sunday Mornings, starts off with one of the most beautiful songs the 7-piece band has ever conceived. “Washington Square” is a harmonious blend of acoustics, percussions, and a piano, that are amazingly arranged to create a true contemplative ballad about wanting to go home: “Now I live in the shadows, where light is electric/and time is just a number, that rests on a wall/Nobody knows me, my friends and my family, are as far from this city, as Washington Square”
For the most part, the album is a revisitation of Recovering the Satellites, with even some of the new songs like “When I Dream of Michelangelo” coming straight from the lyrics of its predecessor “Angels of the Silence”. But there are bits and pieces of songs from previous albums having some influence to create a well-rounded record of everything they’ve ever tried doing, and doing well.
It would be admittedly tough to love this album without loving the kind of old-school, electric music the Counting Crows are capable of producing, that runs along the lines of Van Morrison, The Band, and even a bit of REM. From the poetic lyrics to the merging of so many instruments, this album was made for the real fans who are more prepared to swing with the stiff caffeine jolt, punches and blows it delivers in its first half, and the recuperation that follows in the second.
(If you think you’re brave enough to listen, start with “Hanging Tree” and “Washington Square”, then make (or find) your way through the rest of it)
Adam Duritz, I think, always delivers. I was left with no choice but to hit the “Repeat All” button on my iPod after Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings finished, determined to hear his lyrics again and see what genius tidbits he’d created this time. From the first song, we have the profound, “I am the king of everything…I am the king of nothing!” and the “What are you gonna say about me now?” “I am a Russian Jew American impersonating African Jamaican…”
The self-deprecating but societally relative “1492,” the beautiful but disturbingly honest “Hanging Tree,” the “Anna Begins” type lament, “Insignificant,” and the damagingly raw “Cowboys” are standouts.
As always though, it’s not just Duritz’ lyrics that impress. The musicianship and artistry of the multiple instruments, the various horns and the ever-present piano don’t miss a single note. It’s nice to find a record that still mixes lyricism with instrumentation and does it well. There are no synthesizers and voice-modulators here.
Overall, the album sounds like a familiar friend. I feel like I’ve heard tones of it before in other Crows albums, but the welcome revisit is long overdue. We missed you guys.