Monday, July 17, 2006

Somewhere In Middle America

So, this CD shows up in the mail the other day. It's AUGUST AND EVERYTHING AFTER (1993) by Counting Crows. (Thanks, Keith! And, let this be a lesson to the faithful readers of Haahnster's Hallucinations. This is an excellent way to get your requests noticed!) I must tell you that I am enjoying this CD more than I expected I would. I mean, I liked the radio songs well enough when they were big, but had heard those tracks sooooo many times. Then, there were a couple songs that weren't as big on the radio, but that were included on their Best Of CD, which I already had. What really surprised me is how much I like the songs I'd never heard before at all.

First, I want to get this out of the way. The (self-proclaimed?) "Dean of American Rock Critics", Robert Christgau, had the following to say:
"Adam Duritz sings like the dutiful son of permissive parents I hope don't sit next to me at Woodstock. He went to good summer camps; he doesn't eat junk food; he's confused about all the right things. And he's not going away anytime soon--so starved are his peers for a show of musical emotion more learned than Mariah Carey's that some even compare him to Van Morrison, as if all sodden self-pity were the same. It doesn't end with Duritz, either--'Mr. Jones' and 'Anna Begins' might live up to the songs in them if the band conceived the tracks as music first and songs second. Folk-rockers never do. B-"

Is that an amazing case of critic-itis, or what? Let's work backwards. "B-" is not that bad a grade. Yet, the most positive thoughts I see in the text of this mini-review are that Adam Duritz is "confused about all the right things" and "more learned than Mariah Carey" (in a musical-emotion sense). Can you say, "back-handed compliments"?

I always like to quote the Geto Boys: "Fuck the motherfucking critics...we bury ya, cockroaches." (The reference to Scarface grabs me every time.)

Track list: 1. Round Here 2. Omaha 3. Mr. Jones 4. Perfect Blue Buildings 5. Anna Begins 6. Time and Time Again 7. Rain King 8. Sullivan Street 9. Ghost Train 10. Raining in Baltimore 11. A Murder of One

The tunes I knew I'd already heard (approximately) one million times each were "Round Here", "Mr. Jones" and "Rain King". Fine radio songs to be sure, although the "Sha-la-la-la-la..." of "Mr. Jones" still makes me a bit uncomfortable in its Van Morrison-iness, and I could do without the final "Yeeeaaaaaaaaaahhhhh" at the end of "Rain King". The other song that was released as a single, but was not on their Best Of, was "A Murder Of One". What a killer tune! It's the finale of the CD, and it speaks to me. Not in a scary I'm-Charlie-Manson-and-I-know-The-Beatles-are-asking-me-to-kill-people way, but rather I feel a nice emotional release. I love the chorus "All your life is such a shame, shame, shame..." I suppose I enjoy singing along with self-pity-filled lyrics almost in a making-the-sign-of-the-cross-to-ward-off-a-vampire way. Stay away, bad feelings and sorrow...

The songs "Omaha" and "Anna Begins" were not released as singles. However, they were included on their Best Of CD. "Omaha" has a sweetly haunting accordion (I think?) sound that grabs me from the inside out. Plus, I like the lyrics a lot, especially "there's an old man threading his toes through a bucket of rain", which seems to me to be an intentional nod to the Dylan title "Buckets Of Rain". And, that has to be some fairly unusual time being kept by the beat of "Anna Begins", which is a melancholy tune, to say the least ("But then I start to think about the consequences/Because I don't get no sleep in a quiet room").

"Perfect Blue Buildings" is a mellow tune. I mean mellow. I like the imagery, although the lyric "green apple sea" reminds me of an unfortunate reference to diarrhea that I've heard before, "the green apple quick steps." One of the songs I really like is "Time and Time Again" ("I wanted the ocean to cover over me/I wanna sink slowly without getting wet/Maybe someday, I won't be so lonely/And I'll walk on water every chance I get").

"Sullivan Street" is a quiet, introspective/retrospective tune with cool piano and great harmony vocals. "Ghost Train" has some nice organ and more of the creative drumming, and puts forth the assertion that "Love is a ghost train rumbling through the darkness." Perhaps the loneliest, most haunting song of them all is "Raining in Baltimore" ("I need a phone call...").

Bottom line: I think the radio hits, sprinkled throughout, are just upbeat enough to prevent full-blown depression. But, let there be no doubt, this is a melancholy album. At least, that's how it hits me. But, I think the most downtrodden songs are actually the most effective, even if "all sodden self-pity" is not the same (fucking "Dean of American Rock Critics"). Of course, I'm not from Omaha; but, I am from "somewhere in middle America."

PS - Adam Duritz wrote all the lyrics, and wrote or co-wrote all the music. Plus, he's got a pretty cool voice, "sha-la-la-la-la..." notwithstanding.


Blogger Beth said...

I bought this CD the day it came out. Traded it for Nick Lowe's greatest hits a week later. It just bored me. Maybe I need to give it another listen.

4:16 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Oh, if it put you to sleep before, it would probably do so again now. It definitely tends toward the mellow end of the spectrum. Perhaps I'm mellowing out a bit in my almost-middle age...

5:28 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, as someone knee-deep in her middle age, maybe I'll like it again. I'll (illegally) download some MP3s tonight and see what I think today.

5:36 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

You live so dangerously!!!

5:39 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

On the edge, my friend. The only way to go. That's why I can't hold my head up in that photo of the tree in snow.

7:17 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Yeah and hey Robert Christgau, what's wrong with Mariah Carey?

7:25 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Beth: Your head, a tree in snow...You say "to-mah-to" and I say "to-may-to"...

Rob: He probably thought she was hanging out with some of those rap guys. The horror...

3:46 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

Well thanks for the introspective listen. I agree that it is very, very mellow.

I love Perfect Blue Buildings for some reason.

As with most albums, the stuff not played on the radio is ususually mo' better than the stuff that is.

I find that Adam is very strange but haunting in his delivery. He apparently has trouble with migranes and battles depression all the time - which puts him right on the cutting edge of most creative people.

But the hair. Why the hair?

Good review.

9:37 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

OK Beth, maybe I need a copy editor too.

The word is USUALLY.

9:38 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

I just took it as a written stutter. I do that (inadvertently) quite often.

Thanks again for the CD. Emily likes it too, which will keep it in the rotation indefinitely.

9:59 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger deep in thought said...

August is a cd I can always come back to - there's a brilliant live mp3 of Murder of One somewhere that I'll endeavour to get to you if i can remember where I left it.

Anna Begins - live is unlike any other Crows song - Duritz's voice cracks open when he sings it and it's the only time I've ever seen a theatre full of people speechless and breathless all at once...

7:13 AM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Very cool.

7:55 AM, July 19, 2006  

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