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Disturbingly, this is ten years old now - how time flies and the like. The fourth studio album from one of my favourite bands, this is a slightly patchy affair, but the stand-out tracks are of such a quality that it's hard not to love Hard Candy. At its worst, it's catchy, well put-together background music, while the best of the songs here are quite exceptional - from the suitably sweet and summery American Girls that opens the album to a top-notch cover of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi that compares pretty favourably to the original. The vocals of lead singer Adam Duritz sit perfectly with the track.
I know Counting Crows can be a bit safe and unremarkable for some - an inoffensive slice of mid-American soft rock that doesn't threaten to pull up any trees musically, but for me it's their understated, mellow buzz that appeals - the tracks are infectious, lyrically clever and well-crafted, and underpinned by consistently brilliant vocals from Duritz.
Alongside the two previously mentioned tracks, Up All Night and Holiday in Spain are exceptional songs, with quite wonderfully strong choruses. The latter in particular is an enduring favourite for me - it just scores on every level, with some of the best lyrics the band have put to paper. It's a wonderful piece of escapism that manages to sit ambiguously between emotions and leave an evocative, bittersweet aftertaste. It rocks.
The rest of the tracks are okay-to-good, which is fine. They punctuate the lulls between the big hitters well enough, and there are certainly no stinkers here. This isn't the stunning success that August & Everything After was, nor is it as consistently strong as Recovering the Satellites, but overall it's an extremely strong album that contributes some great songs to the Counting Crows canon.
Just simply wonderful.There is nothing else left to say.I mean it.Don't push me now, I told you what I think.Oh, okay, one more thought.... Joni Mitchell will be proud.
I bought this album recently off Amazon for £3.98 a few weeks ago and it's still priced at £3.98 now which I think is an extremely good price for a full length album. I'm quite a fan of country and rock music and this album is a blend of both which is why it appealed to me.
Initially I bought this album because I really like their cover version of Big Yellow Taxi and I've had it on in the car quite a few times since buying this album! For those who don't know, Big Yellow Taxi is an old country song that the Counting Crows have rocked up a little bit to make it funky and good to tap along to while still having a traditional American country music feel to it.
The other tracks on here I really like are American Girls and Butterfly in Reverse. I think they're really easy going songs but they're upbeat and good to nod along to at the same time. There's a firm rock beat going on with this album and yet at the same time it's all easy going with a country feel to it.
I'm quite impressed with how much has gone into each of these songs. There are quite a few instruments involved in every track that have been smoothly bought together without feeling overly loud or layered. The production is very good and the vocal performance is smooth, classic and hard to find fault with.
I'm not one to analyse the individual tracks so I'll just leave you with a track listing and say that if you like easy listening music with a good rock beat then this is an album you might enjoy. Especially as it's only £4!
1. Hard Candy
2. American Girls
3. Good Time
4. If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)
5. Goodnight L.A.
6. Butterfly In Reverse
8. New Frontier
10. Black And Blue
11. Why Should You Come When I Call?
12. Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)
13. Holiday In Spain
14. 4 White Stallions
15. You Ain't Going Nowhere
16. Big Yellow Taxi
I thought it was about time I graced you with another of my album reviews. Why this one, well basically this album is a hidden gem that has been underexposed so I will do my bit to help expose it a bit more.
~ Who? ~
The Counting Crows are a rock band made up of seven members (count them seven). They shot to fame in 1993 with there debut album 'August and Everything After', two further releases have graced the scenes since and a live album has been thrown into that mix for variety.
~ Hard as nails, hardly ~
So what is so great that I have shout out about this album then. Well away from this being in the rock genre this album is generally quite tame but tame in the great sense of the word. Having not listened to the other albums from the band I have nothing to compare the tracks to from these guys so I will just review the tracks as best I can.
Hard Candy - The title song from the album is a very up beat introduction to the album. Apart from the Guitar, piano and percussion are used to great effect with the drums highly apparent as well as other instruments of varying nature (according to the insert there are a number of other instruments such as mandolin and obo used through out the songs). The lyrics match the upbeat mood to this song almost perfectly and sung with great pride.
American Girls - A real favourite of mine (well all songs on this album are favourites but this one more so). A strong beat and low guitar playing highlight and make the lyrics over shadow the backing music that they create. Carefully paced and sung female backing vocals make a great accompaniment along with additional vocals of the band members. Great lower key vocals in places are worked in well with the backing music.
Good Time - Surprising given the title of this track but this is in a much lower and slower tone with much more sadness in the vocals and lyrics. Electric guitar is apparent in places (and has large part to play when lyrics are not sung) but piano and drums make the music in this one.
If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead - Possibly the longest title for a track I know of. This track is slightly more upbeat than the previous one (but not as much as the first two). This is probably one of the weaker links on the track but still a good listen. In this case more continuous music and lyrics are apparent, one to nod the head to defiantly. Guitar is more apparent also piano is most significant with drums suitably accompanying the track. Lyrics are nicely written and sung, more romantic as well in my humble opinion.
Goodnight LA - Drum intro swiftly followed by piano that is constant throughout, drum provides a slow beat for the lyrics to follow. Lyrics are superb in this one and sung with a great tone that hardly varies most appropriately during the duration of this track. It is also a very easy track to sing along to.
Butterfly In Reverse - Solemn piano introduction transforms into drums, violins and some guitar. This track is medium paced for this album. This song has a gentle tone with horns of some sort. This is sort of a romantic essence to this track, sharp finish.
Miami - A travelling tune with guitar and drum introduction and present throughout. Slow pace with great scratchy vocals. Hints of other sounds throughout make this one of my favourite tracks on the album. The words to this song are simple but effective; I certainly nod my head and sway it at the same time. Electric guitar appears to be present later on when vocals dry up then a brief pause at one point to head for a loader conclusion but in nice way once again.
New Frontier - Drum solo for a quick introduction, great inclusion of count in for the guitar, lower tone of music at points makes this a slightly darker track than the previous ones. Once again great lyrics with some keyboard possibly present. This is my favourite track from the point of view of the vocal and lyrics combination.
Carriage - Much gentler piano, drum and guitar piece, slightly slower again with sadder medium tone lyrics and sharp vocals. Saxophone piece in the middle without vocals again used to good effect. Lower tone conclusion similar to the introduction with great plucking of the guitar strings
Black And Blue - Dark piano introduction lead into lyrics in high and low tones then drums come in with additional vocals to give effect. Slow lyrics and slow to medium tone vocals. Although I still like this song it is not the best on the album.
Why Should You Come When I Call? - Key board and harp introduction swiftly followed by guitar and drums. Sad lyrics sung in an up beat mood. Good beat with words that good to sing along to again. Good use of vocals and chorus works well with the mix of mood and beat.
Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood) - This tracks starts with a dark piano introduction with vocals coming in over the vocals (reminiscent of Queen). This track is a bit more of a sexy number in terms of the vocals. Rolling vocals against the music open up into an upbeat guitar and drum piece. High paced vocals and music compliment the good vocals. Electric guitar makes some great music within and towards the end of this track. Nearer the end of the track its gets quieter before a louder conclusion kicks in.
Holiday In Spain - Piano introduction and again the lyrics come in over it. The vocals on this are my favourite, variation in low and medium tones of vocals. Drum silently enters into the song. Guitar enters later in much the same way; the track also gets louder towards the end. Guitar becomes highly apparent for none vocal areas. Almost pauses at one point to open up in to foray of vocals from several areas and music gets louder.
4 White Stallions - Guitar introductions this time, followed by drum and piano simultaneously. The in this track lyrics are slow and struggle to follow the beat, good selection of lyrics, carefully chosen to fit the music or is it the opposite way round. The whir of the guitar becomes apparent again similar to previous tracks. Keyboard sounds like it is also apparent later on in the track. Gets quieter nearer the end only to open up slightly into a chorus of strings and things.
You Ain't Going Nowhere - UK bonus track with a very up beat guitar, piano and drum introduction with the lyrics to with it. This is a fun song with western style backbone to it. Lyrics are not the best but the song functions without need for good lyrics to best effect. Loud and high paced song that I would get up and dance to if only I were not typing this at this time. I am now singing loudly to this one. Get me out of here!
Big Yellow Taxi - This is the theme from the film Two Weeks Notice and the reason why I bought this album. Very upbeat drum and guitar introduction with harp evident little later. Very fun lyrics with smiley and happy tune, clever lyrics as well. Joni Mitchell adds her vocals to wonderful effect and makes a change from the male voices on the previous tracks.
Overall every track adds something to the album, rarely have a said that about any of the 70 or 80 so albums in my collection. The amount of work and time that has gone into producing this album makes me believe that a truly brilliant album such as this can be produced on this scale. 16 tracks of the most consistent goodness I ever heard.
~ Other Stuff ~
Apart from the instruments mentioned there are others included in the tracks as the group are very talented and play such instruments such as Banjo, Organ, Melotron, Chamberlain Obo... well you get the picture. Some of them I would have no idea as to what they sounded like so I could be wrong in some of the statements of the tracks but I take it as I hear it.
The album is produced on Geffen Records with smashing styled front cover of album sleeve.
This cost me £11.99 from HMV but you can now pick this up for £7.99 from hmv.com.
Websites for further information:
~ Conclusion ~
This is great album (well it is in my collection so it must good!) with good value for money with sixteen tracks and no dud tracks that can happen with some bands of the same genre. I have to say I am taken by the Counting Crows and shall be adding their back catalogue to my collection some day. I say go and buy it if like this genre.
This review may also be found on my account on Ciao under username eljimbob.
© James Robert Ellerby 2008
I once dismissed the Counting Crows as "seasonal Americana," pleasant-but-inconsequential rock that I'd have great fun listening to on a long drive to the beach with the windows down during a given summer, but would shelve once the leaves started to brown and allow to collect dust until the moon completed another rotation, and I could screech "Mr. Jones" along with four equally carefree friends on a spur-of-the-moment road trip.
But that's when "Mr. Jones" essentially was the Counting Crows for me, and when its parent album, 1993's August and Everything After, was the source of any extra "Mr. Jones" Counting Crows exposition. Because when a song's that catchy, who cares what the rest are like?
I should've, evidently. It took until 1999's This Desert Life and, subsequently, the realization that the Crows weren't just summer-drive music, that, in fact, "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" was a lovely tune for an autumn drive, and that, in hindsight, "A Long December" was quite appropriate for winter-time to become a true convert. And with conversion came the realization that Counting Crows were no longer "seasonal Americana," but a very specialized brand of far-reaching, hooky, warm-hearted, year-round Americana. And I fell in love.
All the earmarks of the Counting Crows album are here: singer/songwriter Adam Duritz lives and loves and learns and yearns like he always does, and the band still bangs out their workmanlike Band/R.E.M./Van Morrison-y pop, and it's nothing particularly difficult but somehow strikingly beautiful, just like every other time. 'Fact, vocal guest shots from pop stars like Matthew Sweet and Sheryl Crow may mislead the more cynical among us into expecting a Santana-esque album of familiar style tempered by overt top-forty pandering, but that's not the case.
What the Crows have done with Hard Candy, quite simply, is lightened up. The opener (and title track) is pristine pop, all cute harmonies and pretty acoustic guitars, mid-tempo and as invigorating as a deep breath of autumn air. I love Duritz's lyricism, and what might not mean a whole lot to us, initially, clearly means something to him, and when he inexplicitly describes everything with vivid imagery (and, possibly, the most earnest voice in the biz), he makes it mean something.
As lovely as Duritz's voice and words are, the band deserves special commendation on Hard Candy, simply for making it sound like an album of ready-made classics. "If I Could Give All My Love" is particularly impressive. It sounds like it just took a wrong turn on its way to an Allman Brothers record. "New Frontier," oddly enough, sounds like a Cars record, mechanical time-keep and loopy synth shots and everything. "Why Should You Come When I Call?" is such a beautiful, lurching, breezy slab of folk-rock. "Up All Night" is similar, and has the best hook on the album, and ends in a flurries of "na na na na na's, which, I have to confess, I'm a bit of a sucker for.
"Miami" might be my favourite song on the album, although I haven't determined yet if that's because I like it or because it sounds so instantly familiar. Still, Duritz positively soars during the outro so it's got that in its favour.
Lead single "American Girls" is perfect. As far as Counting Crows songs that are deliriously snappy and catchy but still manage to betray some deep-seated yearning go, this one easily matches "Mr. Jones" and "Rain King" and is probably their best song. It's also an interesting summit of the Crows, as Sheryl drops by to offer her hand at background vocals. Any band that can muster up this kind of pop perfection deserves to be revered.
For my money, Hard Candy is this band's finest achievement. Since this album, they've further exhibited their remarkable pop expertise with the SHREK 2 theme song, "Accidentally In Love," a beautifully written song.
All in all, a great album for any music fan. Theres something here for everybody.
They've done it again! Sheer brilliance - Advantages: More Of Adams amazing lyrics and voice, Counting Crows have put all they have into this album, Absoultely Fantastic.. Good Times is definatly one of the best songs they have ever done. - Disadvantages: It is tooooo good. , I can't listen to it all the time., It may turn you into an obsessive counting crows fan
America is a nation that has a lot to answer for these past few years. Ignoring its rejection of any Kyoto agreements and its poor human-rights record when it comes to international 'terrorists', it has brought untold horrors onto the world in the form of Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Ashanti, Britney Spears et al. But there some in America who do not pretend to be skateboarding teenagers in shorts who hate their parents or budding teen prostitutes, there are actually some damn good musicians in America, intent on delivering music to the masses. So behold Hard Candy in all its glory, because Counting Crows are here to save your stereo. Anybody expecting a spurt of techno mixed with hip-hop will be sorely disappointed with this album. It differs little from their three previous offerings expect for one very important aspect; quality. Mr. Adam Duritz and friends have been around the block a few times by now. We've had to wait three years each time for their albums to appear, but that is due to extensive touring and studio practice that demands the sort of polish you see on Fabian Barthez's head. Not only that, but Duritz's songwriting has even improved. CC's first two records were very personal, their third This Desert Life suffered from being somewhat too commercial and a lot less personal. Hard Candy comes back with personal lyrics and a less overtly commercial sound. Obviously, they still sound a lot like The Band and they were their rootsy American erm roots with pride. But why shouldn't they? It's not as if they are using Fred Durst as a cultural reference. The Album: 1. HARD CANDY (4:22) This is probably the strongest opening track that CC have released on their four albums. Not as soft as Round Here or Catapult and not as throw-away as Hangingaround. This track is much more direct, pushed on by the tight drum and bass that underlies it. The piano, as it often does in this album, adds a
summer evening feel. The harmonies in the chorus are something to behold, making CC sound even more like The Band than normal. 2. AMERICAN GIRLS (4:34) American Girls is the most overtly commercial track on the album, very radio-friendly (for America, I doubt it's been ignored here). I'm not sure who the girl is adding the harmonies here, but it is reminiscent of those used to so good effect on their debut album August & Everything After. The lyrics are often funny and Duritz has an excellent turn of phrase like "American girls all feathers and cream / Coming to bed so edible". It ends with the refrain "You made me cry". 3. GOOD TIME (4:24) Good Time is certainly made by its deep bassline, subtly added, but always prominent and the Hammond organ coming out the left speaker. The guitars wah-wah to add to the sparse sound. I could pick out each instrument in this song so easily, it is wonderfully polished without wiping away its depth in sound and meaning. This is clearly the sound of a band who have been playing together long enough to know intuitively what to play and when. This track may sound like Duritz laid low, but it is an album highlight. 4. IF I COULD GIVE ALL MY LOVE (3:52) After the ironically titled Good Time, we do get a good-time song. IICGAML is the sort of song that you stick on a compilation CD for summer driving in the car. Radio-friendly to the point of lust, this track will surely be ignored by UK radio anyway, but hopefully Irish radio will have sense if it gets what it should get, i.e. a single release. 5. GOODNIGHT L.A. (4:17) "I've been up for 38 hours / And it don't look like sleep's coming soon" are words that sum up a mellow lethargic song, seemingly about insomnia. But there is more to this song than ideas of sleep, the chorus is simply beautiful as Duritz sings "What brings me down is love / 'Cause I can never get eno
ugh / Never get enough of love". Lyrics like this are exactly what made This Desert Life such an empty record, devoid of the depth. Unlike Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Duritz has back-tracked to the persona lyrics that were the hallmark of CC's first two records. This is classic Counting Crows. 6. BUTTERFLY IN REVERSE (2:48) Butterfly..., it must be noted, does sound quite similar to Another Horsedreamers' Blues, from the album Recovering The Satellites, but if anything, this track is better due to the string arrangement that makes it an altogether more upbeat affair. But it is also a pure summer evening song, so suited to that time of day that it's as if nature bore the song herself. Another highlight, short and sweet. 7. MIAMI (5:01) Miami is the sort of track that takes a while to appreciate, but becomes even better after repeated listens as you notice all the nuances, such as the guitar feedback and the string arrangement "She can pull the sunlight through me / Oh, into Miami" sounds as poetic as it is beautifully sung. The finale too the song, not only has more gorgeous harmonies and a superb string arrangement, but a fantastic vocal performance from Duritz. 8. NEW FRONTIER (3:51) Every album has a weakest link and to my mind New Frontier takes that accolade here. It's not a bad track by any means, probably better than 99% of the songs that reach the singles each year. But musically it lacks creativity, it like reheated 80's CC rather than the fresh music we've been served up before on the album. Notably, Duritz sings about 'Aluminium' rather than the American 'Aluminum'. 9. CARRIAGE (4:04) One interesting pattern on this album is the forgoing of the usual album pattern of fast song-fast song-slow song, beloved for so long. Instead we are offered an upbeat song directly followed by something mellower and more thoughtful. Carriage is therefore a m
ellow offering with a wonderfully jazzy trumpet solo, something CC have never really used before. Kudos too for possibly the first ever use of the word 'congealing' in a pop record, although if anyone wants to correct me on that, don't be afraid to post it! 10. BLACK AND BLUE (3:53) This track breaks the fast/slow cycle, but it doesn't really matter when a song is as gorgeous as this. It seems to merge the best bits of Sullivan Street and A Long December (probably CC's two finest songs) into one. The harmonies add untold warmth to Duritz's one voice. But it is in the subtle beauty that we must admire this, the sweetest song on this record and possibly the finest song the band have ever recorded. "Fall asleep next to me" sums it up. 11. WHY SHOULD YOU COME WHEN I CALL (4:38) This one is a much-needed upbeat offering. The strings and electric piano open it, but the drums, guitars and Hammond soon kick in to good effect. "I'm not proud to need a hand", admits Duritz, possibly alluding to a sense that he has too much pride, as does the title itself. This song is perfectly placed on the album, not quite an opener, not quite a closer, but placed close to the end. About two minutes in, we even get a Beatles-esque harmony section. 12. UP ALL NIGHT (5:07) The piano that opens this song, accompanying Duritz's voice seem to suggest a perfect closer. "We could drive out to the duns tonight / 'Cause summer's almost here" offers a wonderful image. This is a classic summer track, especially when the band emerges after the first chorus. Once the song becomes more upbeat, it is clear that this song is placed perfectly as the penultimate track on the album. The slide guitar solo is always a welcome addition on an album and this one is fantastic. 13. HOLIDAY IN SPAIN (3:48) Every great album needs a strong closing track and Holiday In Spain is exa
ctly that. It beats all three previous Counting Crows album closers with a big stick and two of those song were very strong tracks in the first place. The piano opens it again and it sounds so organic and so beautiful. The words are again funny, but poignant at the same time when he sings "She used to scream at me / It's a miracle that she's not living up in a tree". A superb closer. Hard Candy reconciles the more light-hearted sound of 1999's This Desert Life with the more personal lyrics of the first two Counting Crows albums and reconciles them well. This is possibly the band's finest record to date, both lyrically and musically and is simply a must for fans. But in the current musical climate it is hard to see where the band will win new followers, which is a terrible shame really.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Hard Candy
2 American Girls
3 Good Time
4 If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)
5 Goodnight L.A.
6 Butterfly In Reverse
8 New Frontier
10 Black And Blue
11 Why Should You Come When I Call?
12 Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)
13 Holiday In Spain
14 4 White Stallions (UK Bonus Track)
15 You Ain't Going Nowhere (UK Bonus Track)
16 Big Yellow Taxi