I’m one of the millions-yes, a Counting Crows fan, but more importantly, a poor college student. When I lay the cash down for a new album, I’m not looking to gamble. And Adam Duritz and Co. have never betrayed the sacred trust between infallible band and impoverished music junkie-that is until their recent release Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.
Being a Counting Crows fan has never been easy. (Remember that episode of Full House where DJ and Stephanie dig the Crows? That killed our credibility.) I’m always asked why I enjoy listening to a middle-aged man with dreadlocks mope and whine. Well, because he mopes and whines so brilliantly, and for the most part, we’re all heading in that direction anyway, save the dreadlocks.
Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings loosely fits into the category of “concept album,” the first half-dozen songs (Saturday Nights) representing dissolution and destruction and the final eight tracks (Sunday Mornings), according to Duritz, dealing with recovery and the process of rebuilding the lives we tear down. Both “sides” are contained on a single compact disc.
“1492,” a reworked barnburner that has resided on hard drives for years, jumpstarts the album with great promise and hints that the Crows might mope with a muscle missing since their stunning Recovering the Satelites. However, for every “1492” or “Cowboys,” an equally appealing Duritz vent, there are forgettable rockers like “Insignificant” and “You Can’t Count on Me” that feel painfully forced.
The softer tracks come on the second side, but they offer only a few memorable moments. “When I Dream of Michelangelo” is a perfectly crafted melody for Duritz’s bashful pouting, and “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago” exemplifies the beauty of minimalism, with Duritz’s naked storytelling voice accompanied only by Charlie Gillingham on piano. Nothing else is even in the same ballpark as these two.
Duritz can turn a phrase with the best of songwriters, which is one of the reasons this album is such a disappointment. He still has his same hang-ups, but you’d think six years between albums would have given him new or more interesting ways of writing about them. He beats the horses that Margery once dreamed of to death with choruses like “So if you see that movie star and me/If you see my picture in a magazine” on “Los Angeles” and “I don’t want to feel so different/But I don’t want to be insignificant” on “Insignificant.” The most painful line of the album for me is “But I would be lying/If I didn’t tell you the truth.” I’m still cringing from that one.
There is the glimmer of a solid album on Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, but it’s buried deep beneath a pile of unrealized material. Fellow fans have implored me to consider that the band was deliberately going for a “raw” sound on this record. Hey, “raw” is great. I love “raw.” But the songwriting has to be there, and it just isn’t on the bulk of this album, and that’s a first for this talented group of musicians.
In the end, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings leaves you longing for the weekend to end and the Crows to return to the studio for a better effort.