The kids today probably don’t know the Sheryl Crow that I grew up with. Most will associate her with motherhood, coming down with cancer after having her heart broken by cancer-survivor Lance Armstrong, or as one of those eco-friendly rockers who turns up at charity fundraisers. Musically, she seems to have bracketed into the mould of the middle-aged rock star. Serene and content – her modern persona makes her seem like the kind of person who would like nothing more than to spend the weekend sipping camomile tea in Sting and Trudie Styler’s back garden while the children bop about.
But in the 1990s, Sheryl Crow was filled with angst. Like market grunge, it was an angst that oscillated between a simmer and a howl. Only conversely, the results formed some of catchiest pop-rock songs of the decade. From the misery anthem “If It Makes You Happy” to the submissive despair of “Anything But Down”, Crow managed to escape being lumped into the one-hit wonder categorization synonymous of the Lilith Fair creation. Her success is undoubtedly attributed to her greatest instrument – her voice. It is an icy powerhouse that enraptures you when it crackles and soars, and even more so when it stays smooth, never venturing too far above the reaches of her lower octave.
To put it definitively, Sheryl Crow was the best female rock voice of the 1990s (Courtney Love comes a close second), and she continues to be one of the great female rock vocalists of our generation. In Icon 2, some of the artist’s most recognisable cuts are collected for the first time in a two-disc set. Featuring tracks like her breakout, “All I Wanna Do”, alongside subtler fare such as “Home” from her superlative album, The Globe Sessions, as well as the covers “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” and “The First Cut is The Deepest”, Icon 2 sets out to be an authoritative entry point for newcomers.
Unfortunately, what this compilation lacks is Crow’s authorial narrative. Crow is an indomitable songwriter and storyteller, and her early albums were pieced together with narrative lucidity; they were like perfectly self-contained novellas that resonated both publically and privately. Removed from their original context here, they lose their impact and some of their significance.
Crow loyalists will already own all of these songs and won’t bat an eyelid at this collection. The Icon series initiated by the Universal Music Group is one of those poor record investments that one imagines will slowly but surely be washed out by the digital age.
Certainly, it is time for record archivists to find more fascinating ways of re-appropriating their collections. And at the very least, they should realize that if a newer generation is to experience music for the first time, then they should be experiencing it as was intended (i.e. in its original context). Reinvigorating an artist’s catalogue and furthering commercial interests may very well exist on the same agenda, but if the industry refuses to imbue it with the same sense of imagination as it does newer releases, then it may very well be that “the compilation” genre slowly disappears into the ether.