Detours

Sheryl Crow

A&M, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/12/2008

Artists of any kind have to tread carefully when making statements on the state of society in their artistic creations. We tend to remember those who stuck out their nose at authority figures; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc., etc. Yet for all the praise lavished upon such artists, what is often forgotten in the shuffle is the big question: “Do they even know what they’re talking about?”

John Lennon did not, I imagine, know much more about the state of affairs in Vietnam then your average American/British citizen. He did not have a doctorate, or a deep knowledge of history. Yet, his opinions and words shaped public opinion because people genuinely cared about what he thought. The ’60s are looked upon today as this time of revolution in which serious change came about. The musicians of the time received credit for contributing, and their legacies grew.

When Sheryl Crow releases a song in 2008 a song about the “horrors” of gasoline, that message is going to be heard by thousands of thousands of people. I’d like to think that wouldn’t influence the thoughts and ideas of the record-buying public, but quite frankly I would be deluding myself. But can Crow, or any other artist be blamed? Society has moved away from the notion of personal responsibility; we are more than willing to find scapegoats for our problems. Taking the time to grapple with and truly understand what’s important? Absurd.

Even the blunt, simplified sermonizing that one finds on countless records in the present day has its justifications. With a populace that seems to care so little about the events going on around them, who can deride an artist for choosing to dilute their message and reduce it to simple concepts and generalizations?

Detours presents an artist in Crow who has an innate understanding of what social commentary means in this day and age. We have much that consumes our lives: the war in bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Iraq, the economy, the current administration, etc. To attempt and address all these issues in a fair and balanced manner is unreasonable for a pop record. The question is, why should we expect anything different? Art is a concept that has been argued ad nauseum since its existence; are there standards that all art should conform to? If so, does that not stand in opposition to the very essence of self-expression?

But when we get to the core of the matter with regards to Detours, I have no defense for the simple fact that it’s a pop album. A very good pop album, but in the grand scheme of things, so very inconsequential. Sheryl Crow will most likely never be included in any list if great artists of her time. Yet Detours strikes a chord in the world of 2008. A conversation on the war in Iraq does not have to be a boring, tedious, academic exercise. That’s one of the chief  benefits of a free society -- the presence of endless perspectives.

The plea contained within “Out Of Our Heads,” phrased as “Children of Abraham / Lay down your fears / Swallow your tears / And look to your hearts” is hopelessly naïve and most assuredly will never come to pass. But damn it all, if music gives us anything it’s the power to briefly glimpse something greater than what we experience on an everyday basis. The hooks, the refrains, the melodies of a pop song are not driven by the cold, hard purity of logic. Instead, we hear beauty fashioned to stir something with us. What that is could very well be different for every person, but those few notes and words carry the potential to resonate with any of us.

Jackson Browne once asked “Doctor my eyes cannot be disguised / Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry?” The protagonist is lamenting his/her apparent separation, or inability to connect with the real world. As one sits back to look over the scope of human events, the experiences, the emotions, and the significance of the events contained within our era slowly fade away. They become history, the grand story of how we came to this point that is relegated to the pages of some book gathering dust. We may gain understanding, but at what cost?

The “Detours” that Crow notes are based on experiences many go through: broken hearts, the ravages of cancer, and the joys of parenthood. One of the joys of listening to music is that one can actually hear the words and the voice of the artists. The pain, the elation and the passion is all there for posterity. Music makes history come alive instantly in ways that a book or a piece of art never could.

Detours is a pop record, created by one voice amongst billions. Come 2009, how many will remember it is a matter of debate. As an expression of the avant-grade, it fails miserably. And so, there will be those who read my words here and ask “Why the gushing praise for a Sheryl Crow album?” There’s nothing objective about it; this is simply what I got back from Detours. This review could just as easily been of Yo-Yo Ma, or Brian Wilson, or The White Stripes, or The Beatles. The point is that music, even pop music, has the power to reach us. And, however improbably and for whatever reason, Detours succeeded in reaching this reviewer.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Jeff Clutterbuck 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 A&M, and is used for informational purposes only.