Music

Counting Crows: Hard Candy

Patrick Schabe

Counting Crows

Hard Candy

Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2002-07-09
UK Release Date: 2002-07-08
Amazon
iTunes

When Counting Crows first exploded into stardom in 1994, they fit nicely into a roots-rock niche that included breakout work by Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews Band. Indeed, for a short time, it seemed as if adult contemporary rock would be the defining sound of the 1990s, and even latter-day whipping boys Hootie and the Blowfish were unabashedly plugged into everyone's stereos. "Mr. Jones" seemed to slide right into place, and helped propel the band's debut album, August and Everything After, to the top of the charts.

A mere decade later, it's the adult market that has become marginalized as the record industry has returned to the tried-and-true formula of milking teens for their allowance money. In that time, Counting Crows very nearly fell victim to the same backlash that felled the mighty Hootie. When discussing why it took so long for the band to record the 1996 follow-up, Recovering the Satellites, (two years being a lifetime in fickle pop memory), lead singer and primary songwriter Adam Duritz explained that he'd undergone severe bouts of depression after repeatedly being told by strangers that he "sucked". Satellites reflected that alienation and frustration, turning out to be an even darker and more morose album than the already-somber August. Despite having some middling success with "A Long December" and "Daylight Fading", it seemed that the light was already dimming on Counting Crows, yet another victim of the legendary "sophomore slump".

Less apparent, however, was that Satellites marked an expansion of sorts for the band, and was an early indicator of things to come. Despite being exceedingly self-reflective and gloomy, the disc found Duritz spreading his wings (so to speak) and breaking out of the twangy mold that defined nearly every track of August. When he recovered a second time and produced 1999's This Desert Life, it was clear that Duritz was ready to start making real headway into various musical directions. If "Hangin' Around" was very obviously the radio single, the rest of the album was filled with more durable and impressive forays into the classic rock roots that underpinned the Counting Crows sound.

Now, with Hard Candy, Counting Crows have unveiled what turns out to be their best, most mature, and most vital effort to date. Even as Sheryl Crow transforms herself into a glossy-lipped model and Dave Matthews becomes soundtrack fodder for Adam Sandler movies, Duritz and company have both stuck to their guns and transformed themselves as well. The heavy debts to The Band and R.E.M. are still present, but Duritz seems to have finally found the courage to explore the whole pop palette and cover a wide range of Americana. Yes, Duritz's lyrical themes of self-effacing wistfulness are still intact, but they've been tempered by a sense of worldliness that keeps them from sounding like adolescent emoting. And, perhaps most crucially, the piercing whine of Duritz's ultra-distinctive voice (which contributed to much of the post-August backlash), has been reined in to the point where his pain is manageable and endearing rather than irritating.

For much of Hard Candy, the sound is simply a more refined, slightly more expansive continuation of the tracks from This Desert Life. The title track, "American Girls" (the first single), "Black and Blue", and "Holiday in Spain" are all distinctively Counting Crows songs, fueled by the same multi-guitar layered rock vibe that is their stock in trade. And yet there's an openness to these songs that seems to make them breathe a little easier. Without being as claustrophobic as some of their prior material, it seems as though Duritz and company finally have room to move, and room to groove. But it's the little leaps in other directions that really stand out. The R&B flavors of "Good Time" give the song a soulful depth. "I Could Give" dives even deeper than usual into Counting Crows' own roots and evokes pure classic Southern rock. Duritz even throws a curve ball in the form of "New Frontier", which is about as '80s new wave as you could reasonably expect this guitar-rock band to get, literally coated in bent synthesizer notes. Then there's "Butterfly in Reverse", which revels in the fields of syrupy symphonic pop, a la the obligatory Burt Bacharach reference. And despite being subtitled 13 Fresh New Flavors, Hard Candy actually features a hidden 14th track -- a lovely, and upbeat cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi".

The album is also littered with guest appearances from roots-rock's all-star alumni. Hard Candy got it's first breath of impetus from Duritz's work with critical darling Ryan Adams, and Adams returns the favor here by co-writing and singing on the aforementioned "Butterfly in Reverse" (which is surely one of the album's true highlights). Matthew Sweet lends his pipes to "Hard Candy", as does Sheryl Crow to the single, "American Girls". The beautiful "Carriage" features trumpet work from Andre "Don" Carter, while the powerful "Black and Blue" is bolstered by backing vocals from Leona Naess. But a quick scan of the liner notes shows how much of Counting Crows is really Duritz's baby. Often the sole credit for both writing and music, this is as much about the man maturing and growing as a songwriter as it is about the quality of the band.

And the contributions and performances from the large cast that make up Counting Crows is, as per usual, at the top of their form. But they've always been a tight band, and it's really the development of Duritz's range and vision that Hard Candy makes obvious. In some ways it's a shame that this disc has to debut in a time when rock music, especially the roots-rock meant to appeal to adults, has been pushed aside to make room for youth authority. On the other hand, Duritz is finally comfortable in himself, and Counting Crows doesn't have to pander to market shares. And, for maybe just that reason, Hard Candy is all the better for it.

Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Film

It's a Helluva of a World in Alain Corneau's 'Série Noire'

Alain Corneau's Série Noire is like a documentary of squalid desperation, albeit a slightly heightened and sardonic one.

Music

The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2015

From the old guard reaffirming its status to upstarts asserting their prowess, personal tales voiced by true artists connected on an emotional level in the best Americana music of 2015.

Music

Dizzy's Katie Munshaw Keeps Home Fires Burning with 'The Sun and Her Scorch'

In a world turned upside down, it might be the perfect time to take a new album spin with Canadian dream-pop band Dizzy and lead singer-songwriter Katie Munshaw, who supplies enough emotional electricity to jump-start a broken heart.

Music

Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers Bring Summery Highlife to 'Ozobia Special'

Summery synths bring highlife of the 1980s on a reissue of Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers' innovative Ozobia Special.

Music

'The Upward Spiral' Is Nicolas Bougaïeff's Layered and Unique Approach to Techno

On his debut album for Mute, Berlin-based producer Nicolas Bougaïeff applies meticulous care and a deft, trained ear to each track, and the results are marvelous.

Music

How BTS Always Leave You Wanting More

K-pop boy band BTS are masterful at creating a separation between their public personas and their private lives. This mythology leaves a void that fans willingly fill.

Music

The Psychedelic Furs' 'Made of Rain' Is Their First Album in Nearly 30 Years

The first album in three decades from the Psychedelic Furs beats expectations just one track in with "The Boy That Invented Rock and Roll".

Music

Fontaines D.C. Abandon the Familiar on 'A Hero's Death'

Fontaines D.C.'s A Hero's Death is the follow-up to the acclaimed Dogrel, and it features some of their best work -- alongside some of their most generic.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.