Counting Crows were somewhat written off after 2002's Hard Candy. Adam Duritz and the rest of the band, in that CD, put out a self-consciously pop CD, without a lot of meat on it. Then you had the infamous Coke commercial, and Shrek 2, which earned them an Oscar nomination but no accolades for credibility.
Well, on Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, Counting Crows proves that they're not out of ideas, and haven't lost their drive. This is a fantastic CD that basically melds the folk sounds of August and Everything After with the harder edge and pathos of Recovering the Satellites.
If you're reading this review, you probably know by now the basic concept of the album: It's divided into a Saturday Nights portion and a Sunday Mornings portion. Saturday nights is when you sin, loudly and angrily. This "side" contains mostly electric guitar anger and bitterness, as the protagonist (i.e., Adam Duritz) slides deeper and deeper into depression and loss of self. The Sunday Mornings "side" contains songs of recovery, of trying to put your life back together. (The emphasis is on *trying*. Only in the final song, "Come Around", is there any kind of faint glimmer of hope on this CD.)
Here's how the songs pan out:
1) 1492 -- This is a song about losing yourself in the party scene. It's about the meaninglessness of casual (if not anonymous) sex with Italian models and careening through the underbelly of night life like a drunken Arthur Rimbaud. And it's about all the "people who impersonate our friends" you meet along the way. You can download this as part of a "digital 45" from their site, so I won't bother describing it for you. 7/10.
2) Hanging Tree -- This is one of the best songs on the CD. It's basically about not being able to connect with anyone: "You open windows, and you wait for someone warm to come inside, and then you freeze to death alone." This is really a guitar-driven tour de force. 9/10
3) Los Angeles -- On this one, Counting Crows basically channel the Rolling Stones. Here, Adam gets a little self-indulgent, with lyrics like,
If you see that movie star and me
If you should see my picture in a magazine
Or if you fall asleep while you're watching TV
Well, honey, I'm just trying to make some sense
Out of me.
It sounds like a song designed to say, "Hey, I'm just trying to enjoy myself here. Cut me some slack." Like I said, a little self indulgent. 6/10
4) Sundays -- This one was a surprise. After 3 hard-driving songs, this one is more laid back. It's got nice music, but I don't really understand it, other than he's expressing a lack of faith. 6/10
5) Insignificant -- Here, it's all about a search for meaning. The protagonist (this time not explicitly Adam) stands on the ledge of a building, looking out over the crowd, believing he can fly -- *needing* to believe he can fly, to find some significance in his life. It's really a different way of expressing "Mr. Jones": He wants to be seen, to be noticed, and to mean something in the world. He also wants to be special, without feeling "different" because he's in some celebrity bubble. Great music, decent concept. 8/10
6) Cowboys -- Here, the protagonist is so desperate to be feel something, to mean something in the world, that he becomes a serial killer. The climax of the song is, "Oh, I will MAKE you look at me!". If it wasn't over 5 minutes long, this would be the perfect single. It's hard driving, wonderful, twisted lyrics (the protagonist is a paranoid schizophrenic), and every part of the music builds to the devastating, crumbling climax. 9/10
7) Washington Square -- This is a song about picking yourself up and getting yourself together to go out and live your life again. Quiet, introspective music, and Adam is at his pensive best here. 9/10.
8) On Almost Any Sunday Morning -- Here, the protagonist has taken the wrong woman home, just because he doesn't want to be alone. But he wakes up, and he's alone anyway. He also talks about taking lithium here (to control his depression, apparently). By the end of the song, he vows to find someone real to be with, and not to settle for the one-night stands:
"You dig yourself a dream
That we won't be coming home alone
Not this time..."
This is really a brilliant song. It's the one that reminds me most of the sound of August and Everything After (and even more specifically "Round Here"). 10/10
9) When I Dream of Michaelangelo -- If you've ever wondered what the line "I dream of Michaelangelo when I'm lying in my bed", from "Angels of the Silences" means, this is the song for you. This song has been puttering around in Adam Duritz's head since at least Recovering the Satellites. It's a beautiful ballad about being so close to someone, yet never being able to touch who they really are. "Well I know, she is not my friend, 'cause there she goes, walking on my skin again and again". 8/10
10) Anyone But You -- The best way to describe this song is, the protagonist is in a relationship, and he can't handle it. His eye is on the door. He's not together enough for a relationship.
"I'm almost ready.
Yeah, it's almost true.
For almost anyone but you."
It's got a real 70's feel to it. Not my favorite song, but not unpleasant. 6/10.
11) You Can't Count On Me -- Adam has said he's got 4 albums describing why women should stay as far away from him as possible. This song basically sums it up. He's not Mr. Reliable. Again, not my favorite, but serviceable. 7/10
12) Le Ballet D'Or -- Think of this one as philosophically akin to Eagles' "Wasted Time". The protagonist is tired of being mired in self-loathing and self-pity, and wants to get out and live: "So come on now, let's go dance to the siren's song...". It marks a turning point in the CD, because it's the point where the protagonist realizes, finally, that although he's screwed up his life with the wrong turns he took, that he still has a life to live. A very beautiful, lilting song. 9/10.
13) On A Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago -- The protagonist remembers an old love, and laments her. It's the closest they've come to "Raining in Baltimore" for quite some time. I'm not a fan of "Raining in Baltimore", though. The song is too long and repetitious. (For fun, count how many times he says, "Come back to me..."). 2/10
14) Come Around -- This is, by far, the most hopeful song on the CD, and my favorite. By this time, the protagonist's fog has cleared. Things aren't great, but he sees the hope in life. His girlfriend just dumped him, but that's okay. The song ends:
"And one of the million lies she said
Is 'All of the things you loved are dead.',
But I've seen what she thinks is love
And it leaves me laughing
So we'll (meaning the band, I guess) still come around."
Overall, this is their best work since Recovering the Satellites, by a wide margin. If you lost faith after Hard Candy, give this a try. it won't disappoint you!