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OK, so Amazon kindly delivered my copy of Counting Crows‘ Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings this morning. I’ve made a point of not listening to any of the new songs that have been floating around the Internet, except Cowboys which Lisa sent to me ages ago. I waited until I finished work this afternoon and am currently listening to the album — I thought I owed it to the boys to listen the whole work so I can judge it as a whole.
Firstly I agree with what’s been said on the newsgroup that this definitely feels like it could be a last ever album. It’s got very much of a retrospective feel to it.
As if to illustrate that, 1492 was of course an off-cut from their previous album. I’ve never been quite sure why they cut it — it was a great song, and would have fit in very nicely with the overall feel of Hard Candy. It’s still a great song though, and I’m glad it’s finally seen the light of day.
Hanging Tree has lovely production. The Crows’ lyrics are never happy, but this song manages to have an uplifting sound to it, and is reminiscent of Accidentally in Love from the Shrek 2 soundtrack.
Los Angeles is another old Hard Candy reject. It would never have worked on that album, so I’m again happy that a place has been found for it. Co-written by Ryan Adams and The Gigolo Aunts’ Dave Gibbs, the song has an anthemic, sing-along feel to it. It evokes many of Adam’s lyrical motifs: the pressure of fame, American cities (especially San Francisco) and sleep.
Rescued from the cutting room floor of the Recovering the Satellites studio floor was Sundays. OK, so it was re-recorded for this album really. And given a New Frontier-style intro. It’s a solid song. Though perhaps it doesn’t seem to quite gel with the rest of the Saturday Nights songs, which have more of a rocky feel, it would be even more out of place on Sunday Mornings, despite the name.
Insignificant starts off as an average-to-middling-quality song, but has a wonderful, flowing guitar solo. Parts of it seem to have an underlying George Harrison-style Indian-influenced texture.
Cowboys is a song of great contrasts: sparse choruses followed by rich instrumentals. It’s one of the examples of self-reference on this album, including the line “anyone but you” in its chorus which is used as a track title on the second half of the album. Lots of Duritz’ standard lyrical themes come up, including satellites, sleep, cowboys (of course) and mentions of “Saturday” and “Sunday”, which seems to be a new motif especially for this album.
Another fairly old unreleased song, first heard on their 2003 tour is Washington Square, the beginning of the more laid-back Sunday Mornings part of the album. Wonderful harmonica and piano from Charlie Gillingham in this. The title evokes the lyrics of August and Everything After, the song whose words are scrawled on the front of the band’s first album while being strangely absent from its track listing.
On Almost Any Sunday Morning name checks “Sunday” again, and “grey” (of course Adam’s favourite colour), continuing the self-referential theme of the album. Lots of superb harmonica again.
When I Dream of Michelangelo seems like it’s almost Adam’s attempt to rethink Angels of the Silences as a beautiful ballad. And it works well. From Angels:
I dream of Michelangelo when I’m lying in my bed
Little angels hang above my head and read me like an open book
And from Michelangelo:
And I dream of Michelangelo when I’m lying in my bed
I see God upon the ceiling, I see angels overhead
Another song that seems to have a Beatles-influenced sound is Anyone But You.
You Can’t Count on Me is a stand-out track on this part of this album. It’s strongly melody-driven. If it wasn’t for the uninspiring (note: “uninspiring”, not “uninspired”!) lyrics it would make perfect film soundtrack fodder.
Le Ballet D’Or begins very cut-back instrumentally, but as the song progresses, we see the sound becoming richer. Although it works well, part of me would like to hear what it would sound like as a simple Walkaways-style acoustic guitar plus vocals track.
It’s almost a rule that every Crows album has a single piano-driven ballad. On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago is that track.
Come Around was written and performed live during the 2003 Hard Candy tour. Stylistically this song belongs as much to Saturday Nights as it does to Sunday Mornings; perhaps it’s the beginning of a Sunday Afternoons section. It’s a nice way to finish the album off.
Except that’s not really the end of the album, is it? Continuing Sunday Afternoons we have Baby I’m a Big Star Now, the song which is the subject of a bet Adam made many years ago. Somebody bet him he couldn’t include the same song on four different releases and have me buy every one of them. This song is on the This Desert Life LP, disc two of the Hanginaround EP, the Films About Ghosts best-of album and now this album too. Despite that, I don’t feel ripped off — if there was any song I had to buy four times, I would want it to be this one.
The album as a whole has a handful of older tracks, and plenty of songs with lyrics which hark back to old favourites.
It was interesting to see ex-a.m.c-c regular Ehud Lazin thanked in the liner notes.