Counting Crows Shoot For The Stars

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.

Maybe more.

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

Crows' debut.

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

of brilliance.