To put it simply, they’re back. Most people —myself included— think that Counting Crows have spent the past 6 years writing catchy little ditties for the Shrek soundtracks that appeal to both eight year olds and their moms who listen to it on the way to school. But when the opening track “1492” explodes like a shotgun blast to the gut, it’s a whole different game. The first 70 seconds of the album reference guns, all-night partying, skinny girls performing fellatio, and tranny whores. Ladies and gents, we are no longer in the Kingdom of Far Far Away.
“Hanging Tree” keeps the rapid fire good times rolling, complete with screaming guitar solos and all the hooks you could ever cram into a chorus. The song slows, then winds itself back up like drinking off a hangover. It’s the musical equivalent of running to catch the tour bus before it heads full speed for the next town.
“Los Angeles” starts out sounding like every Ryan Adams song about New York, which is to say it sounds like long, slow, whiskey soaked nights, which is to say it sounds like damn good rock n roll. Especially when the staccato chorus offers amends for sexing, drugging, and rocking: “I’m just trying to make some sense out of me.” Ah yes, rock n roll indeed.
“Sundays” trolls along with a Grateful Dead lead guitar before an echoing crash cymbal sends it into wistful crooning backed by mandolin. “Insignificant” is full of erupting guitar chords and high lonely solos that could be coming out of Springsteen’s amp. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’ve heard the song before, which is probably more a sign of a strong chorus rather than a retread.
The highpoint of the album naturally comes at the end of the Saturday half of the album. “Cowboys” returns to that crazy never-ending dizziness of “Hanging Tree”, but is darker. The song will turn sweet for a few bars but then it’s back down the rabbit hole. The song blisters as Duritz loses it beautifully. He gets angry, shouts, stutters, points fingers, and gives up. Favorite line of the album? “She says she doesn’t love me, like, like she’s acting/But it’s as if she isn’t talking/’Cause Mr. Lincoln’s head is bleeding/On the front row while she’s speaking”.
The second half of the album slows down to reflect on the morning after. The first song here, the lackluster going home song “Washington Square”, is a complete misfire. “Almost Any Sunday Morning” and “Michelangelo” are salvaged by pedal guitar, banjo plucking, and pattering percussion. In fact, these two are probably the best Sunday songs here with their tastefully rationed instrumentation.
“Anyone But You” helps break any mopey mold being cast. With its lilting coo, some odd effects, and a squawking guitar helps the album pulls itself out of a mediocre B side. The addition of the catchy first single “You Can’t Count on Me” buoys it even further. It has a simple 4/4 chorus that works well, which excites me because its not even their strongest song. If this one takes off with radio play then we could have a classic Counting Crows album on our hands.
But you can add “Le Ballet Dor” and “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago” to the scratch list. Combined with “Washington Square”, these are the major pitfalls detracting from the flow of the album. Which is a shame because at 14 songs they could have spared a few songs and made an airtight album. I’m sure the desire to balance out Saturday night with Sunday morning led to some weaker songs being included.
“Amsterdam” is the real tragedy here. It has truly amateurish lyrics, complete with over explaining the context of the song (see song title), and tacking objects and verbs on the ends of lines to make rhyme schemes work. Some nonsensical lines muck up the song even more. “She is the film of a book of the story of the smell of her hair” just seems dopey. Same with the melodramatic “Come back to me!” chorus, where Duritz forces his strong voice to compensate for a weak song. I seriously can’t stand listening to that song.
Luckily the album closes on a high note, just the way it came in. Same tempo, but with a more conciliatory message that fits the Sunday theme. It just sounds like a closer, as the wounds of Saturday night have duly healed on Sunday morning. And it certainly echoes the Counting Crow’s favorite phrase. There are probably a half a dozen references to coming home, coming back, coming up, and coming around. Pretty fitting for a great band that has done just that. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is one hell of a rock n roll album, especially the heavier half. And just like we can forgive “Accidentally in Love”, we can ignore the few missteps on the album’s second half. Duritz even says as much: “After I’ve been missing for a while…We’ll still come around. We will come around.”