Down at the Old Amsterdam
Counting Crows Ė Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (Geffen)
March 24th, 2008
The long-awaited return to the studio for Counting Crows has resulted in a concept album fundamentally about hedonism and hangovers; confusion and contemplation. Compiled in two parts, with two different producers, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is as disappointing as the concept behind it. By general standards of musicianship, itís not a poor album, but for Counting Crows this is no return to form.
Los Angeles epitomises the first section. When the Crows' heartfelt, passionate approach is taken to superficial subjects, it really doesnít work, though the charts will probably disagree. Many of us (if quality music and song-writing is our concern) canít relate, and donít really care what singer and songwriter Adam Duritz thinks about pictures of himself in magazines Ė which is pretty much the subject of the song. Lacking the more achieved perspective of the Red Hot Chili Peppersí take on experiences in their native civilisation, Californication this song and album is not.
As always, Duritz addresses the girlfriend to be, explaining his unfortunate disposition. It is too frequently woe-is-me, and tracks like Sundays shows him stuck in this thematic rut. Five albums in, itís a waste of a good songwriterís potential. Thereís catchy choruses (notably Hanging Tree), which a certain audience will delight in, but for other fans thereíll be a lack of originality and substance. Nevertheless the first part of the album is partly redeemed by Cowboys, a classic Counting Crows sound with signature Duritz melody, lyrics and vocal delivery. There is also some decent guitar, and Gil Norton, producer for the first section, shines on this track.
Taking a more acoustic approach for the second half of the album, things improve at times, but arenít particularly spectacular either. On Almost Any Sunday handles the albumís subject matter more convincingly, and Le Ballet DíOr does have more mood. Here the warm guitar works well with the vocal melody, creating a much more intriguing sound, and showing the input of producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine). Anyone But You also hints at things being pushed from the production end, resulting again in something a little different for the band, though Duritz doesnít sound entirely comfortable in this place.
Die hard fans will enjoy the references to songs and lines from previous albums which appear across this one, including in the stand-out track On A Tuesday In Amsterdam. This is a song which - given the context of those alongside it - some may find to be the most unbearable on the album, taking it to be the height of the self-indulgence. However, given the chance this is a genuinely emotive track, the piano and vocals (a mode in which Counting Crows have often shined) effectively expressing a deep loss. But how many such moments can remain if the songwriting doesnít expand from this territory is questionable.
words: SeŠn Dagan Wood