I am a fan of Counting Crows. I am the first to say sometimes I find them ponderous, especially in ending their songs and in their signature drop out vocal interludes. That said, after seeing the first track on their new CD, Somewhere Under Wonderland, clocks in at 8:22, well, I thought the worst. Fortunately Palisades Park is a tight composition in movements flawed only a little by the two aforementioned Crows’ traits, but the ear candy hooks make up for it.
But what follows are four of the tightest, rock solid compositions that Counting Crows have ever unleashed.
Earthquake Driver is a uptempo rocker that gallops along with melody and vocal hooks that grab you from the first listen; if there was still AM rock radio this puppy would capture lots of airplay.
Dislocation reflects Adam Duritz ever changing views on fame, but again most of those views are fascinating in a voyeuristic frame. The song is a guitar driven rocker with all the patented Crow dynamics present, a standout rhythm section pushes it in overdrive.
God Of Ocean Tides slows the pace and proudly displays this band’s overlooked Americana roots. I never understood all the Van Morrison references, from the start Counting Crows took some earth from Big Pink’s basement and built their own foundation, something Van aspired to but his Gaelic blues usually beautifully betrayed him. God Of Ocean Tides is not only the best song on Wonderland it may be the best song in the band’s strong and varied catalog. Lyrically it’s just beautifully rendered:
Truck stops and river Gods
Gas stations of the Cross
Following a ghost,
Following a ghost,
I pray the water wash away
The memories and the cost.
Carry me south, to the sea
Along with your memories of me
We are born in the water
Now we return to Thee.
And birthday cakes
On paper plates.
Breathe the water
You can see through water
All the way up to the sky.
The next track Scarecrow sounds like it dropped right from August And Everything After. It’s classic Crows and Duritz, both in composition and performance. You’ll be singing out Geronimo before the song ends.
The rest of the album is sturdy work, it holds up the running time with solid hooks, lyrics and musicianship. In fairness it would be near impossible to top the 4 previous tracks, tracks that stand with the best of Counting Crows work.
Somewhere In Wonderland is the best Counting Crows album and the best album I’ve heard in 2014.