August And Everything After

Counting Crows

DGC Records, 1993

http://www.countingcrows.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/18/1998

I've imagined in my dreams once or twice that if I ever wrote a song it might sound something like "Mr. Jones." That is, a stripped-down, rootsy rock sound (Van Morrison yada yada yada) backing lyrics that are both personal and universal, filled with irony, insight, clever pop culture references and killer alliteration.

It's probably a good thing I stuck to reviewing.

Adam Duritz, lead singer and chief songwriter for the Crows, is a poet, and a damned fine one. To appreciate the Crows (and not everyone does...) you have to accept that statement -- that, and everything that goes with it. Yes, the band's sound is underdeveloped and somewhat derivative on August And Everything After -- crawling along in its infancy here, as evidenced by their subsequent, musically much fuller sophomore album, Recovering The Satellites. And yes, a cheery album this isn't; more like eleven shades of misery, from sardonic detachment all the way down the spiral to writhing emotional agony.

What you have to do is get past all that, and get to the meat of the album -- all those lovely, dazzling, precocious, attention-craving (and deserving) WORDS Duritz packs into these songs.

From the first lines of the haunting opener, "Round Here," Duritz proves he isn't just another chicken-scratch lyricist: "Step out the front door like a ghost / into the fog where no one notices / the contrast of white on white." The song itself is a travelogue of the madness that's an inherent element of love, chronicling a relationship that's going around the bend at the same time as the narrator's lover apparently is.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In the midst of "Mr. Jones," Duritz's witty deconstruction of his own rock-star fantasies, and the closest thing to an upbeat tune here, he calls out to his audience "Believe in me / Help me believe in anything / I want to be someone who believes”—capturing, in the space of three desperately sung little lines, the very heart of the relationship between performer and audience. Then later, he sings "When everybody loves me, I will never be lonely," his voice cracking with self-loathing at the bullshit promise of stardom that he realizes some part of him has actually bought into.

The other occasional criticism of the Crows has focused on Duritz's unique approach to singing. And truly, his swerving, note-skipping vocal contortions can at times be distracting to the point of annoyance. But, as perhaps only Dylan and Springsteen have managed before him, Duritz overcomes the limits of his vocal instrument by injecting his delivery with an emotional fire and intensity that overpowers everything else.

Still, there are a few things on August I really don't care for that much. Even clever, literate navel-gazing gets old deep in the slower sections of this album. But then, just as they're winding things up and you're starting to feel maybe just a little bit let down, you get to THE song. The sure-thing personal Top Ten of All Time tune "A Murder of One."

The song, a devastating plea to a friend trapped in an abusive relationship, is as finely crafted and emotionally explosive as any of the truly great songs in rock history. Over a steady, propulsive beat: "Are you happy where you're sleeping? / Does he keep you safe and warm? / Does he tell when you're sorry? / Does he tell you when you're wrong?" Chills. The music builds. "All your life is such a shame / All your love is just a dream....You don't want to waste your life / You don't want to waste your life." More chills. Duritz says his peace, to no avail. The music peaks, fades, settles, and then slowly builds up steam once again until it positively erupts as he wails "CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE / CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE / etc." It's a goosebump moment.

Mark McGwire (oops, sorry, Chris -- Sammy Sosa) would be the first to tell you that you can't hit a home run every time you come to bat -- but that's part of the reason it's so sweet watching the ball sail out of the park. As far as I'm concerned, Duritz can write as many sad-and-lonely busted-relationship songs as he wants, as long as every so often he throws in a piece of sheer rock and roll poetry like "A Murder of One."

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+


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© 1998 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of DGC Records, and is used for informational purposes only.