This Desert Life
Counting Crows third record picks up pretty much where 1996's Recovering The Satellites left off. Several of the songs take their cues from two of that album's strongest tracks: the piano-driven hit "A Long December" and the country-ish "Daylight Fading."
The catchy, bar-rock riffs and handclaps of "Hanginaround" get things off to a promisingly loose start. "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" is a pretty piano ballad that, were it not for the spacey synths, wouldn't have sounded out of place on the band's debut record, 1993's August and Everything After. And if the piano ballad "Colorblind" (reprised from the Cruel Intentions soundtrack) sounds like REM at their most precious, the jangly "Four Days" comes off like a lost chestnut from that band's Fables of the Reconstruction period.
But it's the epic-length country shuffle "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" that produces the band's finest moment. Singer Adam Duritz turns in an engaging vocal and an approach that seems to be a little more relaxed and light-hearted than usual. "If you've never stared off into the distance, then your life is a shame," he sings. Nearing eight-minutes, the song breezes by and includes a great sing-along chorus.
Still, while Duritz seems to be becoming more at ease as a vocalist, This Desert Life finds the rest of the Crows still searching for an identity as a band. Part of the problem is that the Crows are a large band, sometimes including three guitars, piano and keyboards. On some tracks, the instrumentation can seem like overkill, as those spacey synths fight it out with wailing guitars. Counting Crows would do well to get back to the nice organic sound they perfected on their debut record.