@review KODY FORD
Underwater Sunshine or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation
Cooking Vinyl Records – April, 2012
Counting Crows are in a precarious situation, caught between staying commercially viable and pleasing the hardcore fan base. Previous albums like Recovering the Satellites and This Desert Life featured eclectic and adventurous songwriting while Hard Candy felt like an overly polished appeasement to Top 40 radio. In Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings they attempted to return to the rougher, folky sounds of their early work, but with mediocre results. That’s why fans have eagerly awaited their follow-up. Unfortunately, Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation) is a mixed bag that will leave you simultaneously pleased and a little disappointed.
Vocalist Adam Duritz and crew love their fellow musicians and have never shied from sharing their favorite tunes during concerts. Hardcore Crows fans drudge the depths of torrent sites to gather live bootlegs of the Crows’ broad catalogue of covers. It’s only natural that the Crows would eventually release a covers album. However, such an undertaking can be dangerous. While other artists have opted to completely reinvent the songs, the Crows seem loath to venture too far from the source material, which offers mixed results.
The Crows have performed some of the album’s classics—“Amy” by Pure Prairie League, “Ooh La La” by The Faces, and “Return of the Grievous Angel” by Gram Parsons - in their sets for years.
The slightly distorted licks of “Untitled Love Song” offer a promising start for the album. As Duritz sings, “Throw your arms around my neck, won’t be soon to forget,” he feels at home with the material, which was originally recorded by The Romany Rye. “Hospital,” a track by Coby Brown, far surpasses the original. Duritz’ vocal sounds like a man plagued by his demons as opposed to Brown’s distant, soft tonality (which is still a pretty good tune). Their formerly satisfying live take on “Ooh, La, La” now sounds so polished it could belong on the soundtrack to the next Shrek movie.
The album as a whole plays out like this. The Crows perform at their best when interpreting more obscure songs and seem to be trapped under the weight of the more famous tracks. One can only hope that their next collection of original tunes will return them to the early days. But don’t hold your breath.
2 ½ out of 5 stars.