Crows excel on seventh album – who’s counting?

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Zane Nyhus

 

 

On September 2, Counting Crows released their seventh album, Somewhere Under Wonderland.  About a month before the release, lead singer Adam Duritz turned 50.  Though much has changed since the release of the band’s first album, August and Everything After in 1993, it is clear that underneath Duritz’s iconic dreadlocks there is a brilliant songwriting mind that continues to impress as time goes on.

Somewhere Under Wonderland starts out with “Palisades Park”, an eight-minute nostalgic tale of a man recalling his childhood memories.  Beginning an album with a slow, drawn out song is a gutsy move, but the inventiveness of the tune (which begins with a trumpet solo) keeps the song entertaining enough to draw the listener in.

The chorus tells us to “carry the spark from Palisades Park,” and it seems that the Counting Crows try to do just that with this album.  Duritz said, “The song was about a period that’s fascinating because of guys like Lou Reed — the early ’70s and the late ’60s with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol in New York.”

“Cover up the Sun” and “God of Ocean Tides” have an unexpected country twang that is uncharacteristic of the Counting Crows, but its subtle incorporation with the more melodic songs is well received.

The standout track from this album is “Possibility Days,” where we feel the loss that Duritz sings about “It was a cold 3 a.m. at JFK / I guess you stayed because you wanted to stay / We went from zero to everything all in a day / And then Kennedy took you away.”

This type of lyricism is scattered throughout the album, but Duritz delivers with a rawness that has been missing in the last few albums.  His lyrics become much more playful in “Scarecrow,” in which he sings “Snowman! Scarecrow! John Doe! Buffalo!”

This album isn’t all about Adam Duritz’s lyrical prowess, however.  Dan Vickrey’s upbeat, versatile style as lead guitarist helps to act as a counterbalance for Duritz’s more mournful lines.  “Dislocation” would be the song where this is most evident, bouncing back and forth between jumpy guitar chords and somber lyrics “I’m fading out in stereo / I don’t remember me / dislocation, dislocation.”

Duritz’s pain-ridden lyrics aren’t purely invented, though.  At 50, he has battled depression and has been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder.  Even after dating many famous stars (Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, to name a few), Duritz is once again single.  “I’ve been hermit-y for a while,” he said in an interview with Sean Daly.

Teaming up once again with their former big name label, Capitol Records, just might help Duritz and Counting Crows rediscover the magic spark that helped them develop their identity back in 1993.

My only critique of Somewhere Under Wonderland would be that a few songs rely too heavily on Duritz’s overly ambitious lyrics, which ends up diminishing their meaning.  Other than that, this album is a smashing success that may have brought an aging band back into relevance.

4.5/5