Live From Central Park
Interscope Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: JB
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/22/2005
There was some kind of elaborate marketing scheme involved in the ticketing of this show... some complicated trick with American Express people walking around New York and dispensing tickets in an "instant lottery-type fashion." Color me cynical, but this sounds very Sheryl Crow to me. I have a theory that you can tell if a person is an industry creation or not by the number of Grammys they have. (Okay, they're probably not that organized, but there is still a weird pack rat mentality going on during voting.) I mean, Sting has the same number of Grammys as Aretha Franklin... what is that?
This pop critic has always been skeptical of Sheryl Crow, who even from her first album in 1993 was played to death on Z100. Just how many singles did Tuesday Night Music Club have? That album was a pretty good deal; you bought it once and you felt cool for a long time because there were so many songs from it being played on the air. It was the alt-rock era and while nobody then or now would call Sheryl Crow alternative rock, the album sounded like rock without sounding like the Beatles or Springsteen or Def Leppard, which made it... uh, softcore alternative rock? Suburbanites flocked into record stores to get into the "cool alternative rock thing" and they found Sheryl Crow, sufficiently inoffensive and pop enough in sound, and were vindicated by radio's incessant promotion of it (who themselves were desperate to be cool -- it secures advertising -- but did not want to hemorrhage pop listeners). Her image was alternative and her sound was pop, the perfect conceptual combination in a climate where alt-pop quasi-hybrids like Alanis Morrissette became Instant God. Evanescence missed their ideal zeitgeist by a decade.
Sheryl Crow has since gone overboard trying to prove just how rock she is, but who is she fooling (besides millions of casual rock fans); she was on Oprah recently. Just what kind of a rocker goes on Oprah, singing a torch song to her man, no less? Rock critics, however, are quick to defend her, especially after her admittedly rockin' sophomore release and hey, I'm no rock critic, so maybe you're getting things I don't get. But I still hold by the theory that Sheryl Crow is a large, elaborate pop music hoax, a kind of Francine Prose of rock, who has released several "successful" works but not a single one that The Masses remember.
And I've written three paragraphs already without even once mentioning Kevin Gilbert.
The concert for Live From Central Park was held after the release of The Globe Sessions, but out of fourteen songs, only four are from that album. This is not a testament to the incredibly depressing soundtrack to The Bell Jar: the Musical that is The Globe Sessions, but is a result of the format of this very specific concert where Crow duets with big names such as Chrissie Hynde (apparently Hynde finally found a female musician she didn't feel catty about), Eric Clapton, Sarah McLachlan, the Dixie Chicks, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards... am I leaving anyone out? You get the picture. Nicks has said in an interview that if you want to work with anyone in the business, it's a cinch to know Crow first because she knows everybody.
Despite this incredible lineup, almost every collaboration in this concert bombs. Hynde's contribution to "If It Makes You Happy" is gratuitous; why is she even in this song? one asks. She doesn't really bring anything new to it besides ooh ooh it's Chrissie Hynde and sorry, celebrity is not enough for rock. The original version with Crow sounding like Godzilla being dragged out of bed is so much better. Eric Clapton sounds flat-out tired, going through the motions with a forgettable cover of Cream's "White Room." "The Difficult Kind" is a waste of Sarah McLachlan, who harmonizes just to have something to do and plays an instrument I can't hear. Because we all know McLachlan became famous for her mean keyboarding.
The Dixie Chicks bring a fun country twist to "Strong Enough" but of course, the song was really country to begin with. At least it's a new twist on an old song, which should be the point of any collaboration outside of classical music. And Stevie Nicks stuns with one of the best live versions of "Gold Dust Woman" I've heard yet... but I can't hear Crow at all, and I thought this was her concert. The finale "Tombstone Blues" where they all take the stage is such a textbook example of It Didn't Come Together I'll just spare you. And please spare yourself. Really.
What works in this album, actually, is Crow's solo tracks. Crow is reportedly amazing in concert and with tracks like "Leaving Las Vegas" featuring a funny pledge of allegiance to rock & roll, I believe it. "Everyday is a Winding Road" and "There Goes the Neighborhood" were built for the stage and Crow does not disappoint; they sound like how they're supposed to sound like live (need I say more?). It's not enough to save this album and it wasn't enough to save Crow for me; this is the last album of hers I ever bought (although I've listened to all of them, on loan).
Maybe I'm not rock enough. But maybe industry and zeitgeist gets you only so far, especially in rock & roll.