This Desert Life
The Music Box's #2 album for 1999
First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2000, Volume 7, #2
Written by John Metzger
People either like the Counting Crows, or they donít. Itís that simple, and thereís nothing contained on the bandís third studio album This Desert Life thatís really going to sway anyone from one camp to the other. That said, This Desert Life very well may be the groupís best effort to date.
On the ensembleís debut August and Everything After, frontman Adam Duritz sang, "I want to be Bob Dylan," and on its latest effort he gets mighty close. The lengthy Mrs. Potterís Lullaby reads like a Dylan song ó containing a seemingly endless array of lyrics (some of which come straight from Dylanís own poems), complete with similar phantasmal imagery. The words simultaneously make sense and make you wonder what the hell he is trying to say. Is there an overriding meaning to the entire song or just to the couplets strewn together to create it?
In fact, this is the question that begs asking about the album in total. Each song seems connected to the rest, not only on this album, but also to every lyric penned by the gloomy Duritz. Maria (whose ghost pervaded August and Everything After) turns up in Mrs. Potterís Lullaby, Elisabeth (from the haunting track on Recovering the Satellites) returns in I Wish I Was a Girl, and the comet that lit up the stage on the bandís last tour drifts though St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream.
Yes, itís true Duritz is still exorcizing his demons. He always has. Though some may fault him, isnít this exactly what every rock star does through their music? Even Dylan took aim at relationships on his masterpiece Blood on the Tracks. Duritz has just made a career out of it. This may be a bit one-sided, I suppose, but thereís plenty of material to mine from his overtaxed, insecure brain. In addition, Duritz delivers his words with such passion and conviction, itís hard not to get engulfed in his grey, rainy world.
Yet, thereís plenty more. This Desert Life needs to be taken as a whole, right alongside the Counting Crowsí previous two efforts. In fact, this new album puts the first two in perspective ó at least as far as Duritzís relationships are concerned.
This Desert Life is divided into two sides, with the first pertaining to the time frame of the Counting Crowsí early years through August and Everything After, while side two picks up with Recovering the Satellites to present day. Each successive track then seems to drift through time, glimpsing at Duritzís various emotional entanglements.
Musically speaking, This Desert Life again finds the Counting Crows taking a few risks with its sound, folding in new elements from an array of classic rock influences. The bandís predisposition towards The Beatles has become even more prominent than on its last outing, though it counters this with a twist of Rolling Stonesí bombast. Layered over its folk-fueled, Americana-roots songs ŗ la The Band, the Counting Crows continues to find fresh and interesting ways to mine older material, while bringing enough of itself to the plate. The result is that the group performs with a certain conviction and intensity that not only proves that it means business, but also serves to draw the listener into its world. Many ensembles have since copied the Counting Crows' formula, but none have come even close to topping it.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box