Sunday 21 October 2018

Crows cover up but don't create new heat

Counting crows
Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)
(Cooking Vinyl)

John Meagher

John Meagher

BIG album of the week

'We all wanna be big, big stars" went the line in Mr Jones and it would prove to be prophetic. Somehow, in 1994, that song took the Californian band Counting Crows and its frontman Adam Duritz into the stratosphere. They went from a motley crew who had struggled to attract attention in any number of West Coast bars to one that was shifting millions of records.

And Duritz -- with his trademark mop of dreadlocks -- became something of a fixture in the gossip columns thanks to a string of high-profile relationships including Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston (history doesn't record if he made it a hat-trick of Friends stars by also bagging Lisa Kudrow).

Yet many of us were left scratching our heads about the appeal of a band once dubbed the Starbucks of Rock: "Whatever album you skip through, or gig you catch," wrote the Guardian's critic, "you're always guaranteed the same bland concoction of bittersweet, introspective sentiments and frothy melodies."

And yet Duritz could deliver the odd gem, such as A Long December from their "difficult" second album Recovering the Satellites or Colorblind from the Cruel Intentions soundtrack.

After 18 years on the Geffen label, the band have decamped to the much smaller Cooking Vinyl. Surprisingly, it's a move that hasn't fired their creativity. Instead, Duritz and co have delivered a 61-minute, 15-track covers album that doesn't feature a single original composition.

Their 1990s take on the Psychedelic Furs song The Ghost In You, suggested they had a certain easy way with the cover version, but Underwater Sunshine -- for the most part -- simply makes you long to hear the originals instead.

They grapple unsuccessfully with Dylan's You Ain't Going Nowhere, seem stuck in first gear with Fairport Convention's Meet Me On The Ledge and fail to convey the bittersweet beauty of Gram Parsons' Return Of The Grevious Angel.

Duritz and friends fare better with the sort of jangle-pop numbers they have long aspired to. Big Star's The Ballad Of El Goodo is an inspired cover and the band's faithful take on Teenage Fanclub's Start Again is unlikely to upsets fans of the Scots unduly.

But even their choice of covers leave much to be desired. Travis's oh-so-slight Coming Around seems even less substantial in the hands of Counting Crows, while Jumping Jesus, from long-forgotten US college rock band Sordid Humor, does little for the reputation of either group.

Key track Start Again

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