Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 477: Counting Crows

After a hard day at the office, Sheila and I got in a late workout at the gym.  Working out doesn’t solve your problems, but it does release endorphins and helps you handle stress.  It is a remarkable thing and it doesn’t just last for the few hours after the workout, it lasts for days to follow.

Before the workout, Sheila and I both worked late and walked home together.  As an added side benefit, since I was walking with someone else I couldn’t give this next album a second listen. 

Disc 477 is…Recovering the Satellites
Artist: Counting Crows

Year of Release: 1996

What’s up with the Cover?  I think it is a shooting star, made out of strung up lights.  Likely it is some commentary on the ephemeral and false nature of fame; fitting for some guys who didn’t experience fame for very long.

How I Came To Know It:  I’m told by lovely wife that she only had four CDs when I met, and that I’m overusing the “Sheila had this when we met” comment.  This is definitely Sheila’s disc, but I’m guessing she bought it at some point after we met.

How It Stacks Up:  When I reviewed “Hard Candy” back at Disc 331 I suggested our three Counting Crows albums were all about equal.  I was wrong, because “Recovering the Satellites” is far inferior to “Hard Candy” and – I sincerely hope – the weakest of all three albums.

Rating:  2 stars

What a lot of pointless bitching and moaning.  That’s the summary review for Counting Crow’s sophomore effort, “Recovering the Satellites.” Listening to this album made me upset all over again at all the people who made “Mr. Jones” a hit and encouraged them to make a second record.

For a band that was coming off a highly successful debut (commercially, at least) you’d think Adam Duritz and the boys would be a little bit happier about their lot in life.  But no, most of the songs on “Recovering the Satellites” drag on like dirges – overwrought, overproduced dirges.

Duritz’s voice is powerful and capable of carrying a lot of emotional content, but when that content is limited to self-absorbed whining this actually makes it worse, not better.  Lyrically, this record just didn’t engage me, but when it did engage me it mostly just irritated me.  Here’s just a few samples.  From the opening track, “Catapult”:

“What a big baby – won’t somebody save me please
You won’t find nobody home.”

From “Daylight Fading”:

“Spend my nights in self-defense
Cry about my innocence”

And my personal anti-favourite, from “Goodnight Elisabeth”:

“If you wrap yourself in daffodils
I will wrap myself in pain.”

I think you get the idea.  This is maudlin narcissism that is supposed to evoke a raw and sensitive side, but comes off as empty bathos instead.

Musically the album is equally overdone.  The production has a lot of superfluous sound that I expect was designed to underscore the emotional content, but instead it makes the songs busy.  Too much is going on at the same time, and even though the band plays tightly, there is just too much sound in too little space.  When it does strip down, the melodies just aren’t that memorable.

Finally, at fourteen songs, many of which are in excess of five minutes the album is bloated and had me glancing at my watch, convinced the hands had stopped moving and I would be trapped on this review for all time.

Luckily right near the end of the record, at Track 12, things final begin to turn around, with the pretty love song “Mercury.”  This song finally lightens up the album after all the sobbery that precedes it.  The love interest in “Mercury” is like the element she’s named after; quick to shift direction and hard to pin down, but the affection that Duritz expressed for her in both lyrics and music are honest and interesting.  Also the production is stripped down, which lets the pretty tune stand out on its own without a lot of mud in the background.  Even Duritz’s voice loses its whine and shows a nice restrained power.

Following “Mercury” is what I think is the best Counting Crows song ever, “A Long December.”  This song returns Duritz to his comfort zone; cranky moping about.  With New Year’s approaching, he bemoans the lost opportunities and collapsed relationships of the past year.  Unlike previously on the record however, he nails it.

If you’ve ever walked around on a winter’s day so depressed that you’re sure the temperate is three degrees colder for you than anyone else, and felt every blow of the wind cut through your bones while everyone else walks through it oblivious, then this is the song for you.  This song is so evocative of the regret of failed relationships it doesn’t just bring the general experience back to me; I can even remember a specific day.

Never mind that Duritz is singing about California – fairly balmy even in winter – let’s give him a pass on that.  He’s not singing about physical cold anyway.

Overall, this album was a failure for me but right near the end the brilliance of “A Long December” and, to a lesser extent, “Mercury” recovers it enough to lift it up to average overall. 

Best tracks:  Mercury, A Long December

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

I don't know how you could listen to it. I heard Mr Jones every hour on the hour for 4 months. Made me want to punch out the front of my radio. Still makes me cringe. Sounds like this album would cause the same reaction.