The latest from Counting Crows is two distinct works. The six songs of “Saturday Night,” recorded in New York City, are boisterous, balls-out rock and roll peppered with Adam Duritz’s wry bouts of self-analysis.
Ryan Adams lends a hand with lyrics on the goofy, star-fatigued “Los Angeles,” while the autobiographical “1492” shows Duritz can laugh at himself (“I’m a Russian Jew American/Impersonating African Jamaican”).
“Sundays” is the best of the New York material, a calliope ride of self-doubt, while “Insignificant” succeeds with more clever wordplay (“black as a bedroom/white as a lie”). “Cowboys” edges near punk rock anthem territory, and will probably sound great played live – the Crows are well known for reinventing material every night.
All the high-flying abandon comes crashing down for “Sunday Morning” – a stripped-down elegy that could and should stand on its own. It’s timeless music – Paul Simon could have looked back in longing from 1964 London and come up with “Washington Square” as readily as Duritz did from Berkeley in 2007.
The weary beauty of “When I Dream of Michelangelo” and “Anyone But You” provide two of the record’s best moments. The anti-love song “You Can’t Count on Me” will probably be mis-sung a hundred times; God help the first bridegroom who chooses it for wedding music without first giving it a close listen.
“Le Ballet D’Or” begins as a delicate flower, punctuated with mandolin and feedback strains, all roiling beauty, exploding by song’s end.
When you’re in the mood to beat up the night, to metaphorically cross against the light with a bottle in one hand and who knows what in the other, cue up track one of “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings” – but stop at track six.
Or skip to “Come Around” – the record ends on a joyous note after all.