Album Review: Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland

By on Monday, 29th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

American alt-rock band Counting Crows have re-emerged onto the music scene with their seventh studio album, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, released on the 15th of September. This album is the band’s first release of original material since 2008’s ‘Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings’, but lead singer Adam Duritz mentioned in my interview with him the day after the album release that the new songs were predominantly inspired and informed by the band’s 2012 cover project, ‘Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)’. Duritz credits those cover versions for the revitalized energy and focus on musicianship that he and his band display to full advantage on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’. (You can read more of Duritz’s thoughts in the full interview here.)

Rather than being a simple rehash of the introspective mood rock that made Counting Crows a staple of the ’90s, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is a streamlined exhibition of the band’s talents. There isn’t a wasted moment on the entire album, as each track makes its own unique and interesting statement. The variety of moods and styles among the 9 tracks is refreshing, even when Duritz’s familiar stream-of-consciousness lyrical pattern turns toward the morose.

The album’s opening track ‘Palisades Park’ is a strong declaration of the band’s musical intent. The extended brass introduction tells us straight away that something new is happening here, and the rest of the song doesn’t disappoint. Laced with Duritz’s imaginative characters and geographical references as well as several broadly unrestrained instrumental sections, it conjures a sense of adventure both in its lyrics and its music.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-tFkOBU1BQ[/youtube]

A handful of catchy, high-energy tracks punctuate ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, including the curiously named ‘Earthquake Driver’ and current American radio single ‘Scarecrow’. ‘Earthquake Driver’ explores the “skipping and diving” thoughts of a man trying to find motivation and purpose to his life. Its opening lyric “I was born again a little north of Disneyland / somewhere under Wonderland and Hollywood” is so engaging that it even found its way into the album’s title. ‘Scarecrow’ is similarly spirited, with an infectious “do-do-do” chorus breaking up the surreal, purposefully absurd quality of the verses. Nearly 5 minutes in length, it may be more prolonged than the average radio single, but the instrumental bridge and guitar solo are undoubtedly worth the extra time.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01yIgOLUuns[/youtube]

‘Dislocation’ is a frenetic, guitar-driven address of Duritz’s struggle with depersonalization disorder, but also with the often bizarre nature of life in the public eye. Its chorus is deceptively upbeat despite the unnerving lyrics, “I am written in the radio / I dream on my TV / I’m fading out in stereo / I don’t remember me”. ‘Elvis Went to Hollywood’ is another briskly rhythmic track with a metaphysical lyrical theme, trying to pinpoint the moment in time where pop culture went astray. In spite of that somewhat discouraging sentiment, the vigourous instrumental riffs following each chorus will renew your faith in guitar rock.

‘Cover Up the Sun’ takes a decidedly country rock turn, its upbeat rhythm and acoustic twang again belying its dark lyrics, while ‘John Appleseed’s Lament’ delves deeply into the blues. The slower paced ‘God of Ocean Tides’ provides a welcome moment of calm introspection in the middle of the album, and the album’s final song, piano ballad ‘Possibility Days’, is an elegant, ethereal contrast to the frenetic energy of the tracks immediately preceding it.

Despite the typically pessimistic feeling of the lyrics, the music on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is remarkably robust and inspired. Fans of Duritz’s signature introspective songwriting style won’t be disappointed by what he’s offered here, while new listeners will be drawn in by the singable choruses, upbeat rhythms and full-bodied guitar lines.

8.5/10

‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is available now on Virgin EMI Records. Counting Crows will tour the UK this November; you can find a listing of tour dates right here.

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