The opening of the Counting Crows sprawling sophomore effort,
Recovering the Satellites, delivers the kind of rush one only
expects from certain drugs. The song is "Catapult," and the first thing
you hear is an organ line, an exotic melody. But it's when the reverb
heavy guitar kicks in that you feel the jolt. It is a powerful opening,
one that more than lives up to the group's mega-million selling debut, the
defiantly titled August and Everything After.
Success has been a good thing for the members of Counting Crows. But
though this sounds like a cliché, it hasn't been easy. Recovering the
Satellites is about having your world fall apart, and the attempt to
pick up the pieces. Certainly on a personal level it's about what Crows
leader/songwriter Adam Duritz has been through, about
how you survive becoming a Thing, an image broadcast into 60 million MTV
homes, a voice heard on radio 'round the world.
But while all of that is here, in the lyrics, in the music, you could
listen to this album and never know it. Duritz has written songs that
anyone who has had their heart broken (or who has broken a heart) can
relate to. "All of the sudden she disappears/ just yesterday she was here/
somebody tell me if I am sleeping/ someone should be with me here (cause I
don't wanna be alone)" are the first lyrics Duritz sings. Is there anyone
who ever had a girlfriend or a boyfriend, who hasn't experienced the
sudden devastation of having one's partner leave, and the ensuing
aloneness one feels?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But does it rock? Is this the kind of album that you
play over and over and over, like the first one? I don't know about you,
but I listened to August and Everything After perhaps 100 times.
That album is the work of musicians who spent a lifetime dreaming of
making music that would connect, that would be heard by the world. Some
of the songs on it, including the hit, "Mr. Jones," were written by a guy
who almost no one would give the time of day, a guy playing small clubs, a
guy who wanted "to be Bob Dylan."
But what happens after you become Bob Dylan?
Recovering the Satellites is the work of an artist who has the ear
of millions of fans, who knows that his songs are going to get a hearing.
And Duritz has, in collaboration with the members of his band, created an
album that is even deeper, more ambitious, and more challenging than the
This album works on so many levels, from the emotion that Duritz conveys
in his voice (and the band convey in the music) to the lyrics that really
mater (like this guy actually cares about every word!). But what I like
best here are the moments, like that guitar that kicks
in, early in track one, or the second verse of the title track, when
Duritz sings. "But we were gonna be the wildest people they ever hoped
to see/ Just you and me." Or when, later in the song, he sings, "And all
anybody really wants to know is...when are you gonna come down." And then
this trippy organ plays.
Or dig the blues guitar intro to the Van Morrison-influenced "Goodnight
Elizabeth," then get lost in the story that emerges, in bits and pieces,
of a girl who was once with the singer, who has left him, or maybe he has
left. "I hope that everybody can find a little flame," Duritz sings. "Me,
I say my prayers/ then I just light myself
on fire/ and I walk out on the wire once again." Like no matter how many
times you get hurt, or left, you gotta walk out there and try again.
It sounds, well, like the Counting Crows. Sure there are bits of the Band,
the R.E.M. and U2 and Van Morrison and Cracker and.... But ultimately, it
is Duritz's unique vision and voice, and his bandmates subtle playing,
that combine in a Counting Crows sound as original it its own way as that
of R.E.M., or Everclear or Pearl Jam.
This album, like life, ends on a note of contradiction and uncertainty.
First in the best song here, the ballad "A Long December," Duritz sings,
"A long December and there's reason to believe/ Maybe this year will be
better than the last." Hope springs eternal! But then, the final track,
which clocks in at a minute, twelve seconds, is about another loser
relationship. " 'I gotta rush away,' she said, 'I been to Boston before,
and anyways this change I been feeling doesn't make the rain fall.' No big
differences these days/ just the same old walkaways..."
The point being, that after all that has transpired between the departure
of a girlfriend in "Catapult," and this final song, Duritz is still being
walked out on, or, in other cases, doing the walking out himself. It may
make for a mess of a life, but it is the raw material for a rockin' work