Release Date: 9th April 2012
So after leaving long term label Geffen, releasing a wonderfully nostalgic live recording of their first album August and Everything After (on both audio and video formats), Counting Crows are finally back with something new. Well kinda. Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) is a covers album, largely of songs the band have done in their live shows and even more underwhelmingly a number of tracks that have been on B-sides or bonus tracks on their albums over the years. Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on the feeling that a covers album is always a signifier of a band on the brink of disappearing forever because I don’t want to think that of a band I’ve loved for a long while, so I’ll dive straight into the album instead.
‘(Untitled) Love Song’ (a Romany Rye cover) is immediately a Crowsy sounding riff of a song. Duritz’s voice is a great as ever and this slow driving opener sets a nice feeling of familiarity with how the Crows have sounded from their third studio album This Desert Life onwards. The Teenage Fanclub cover of ‘Start Again’ has always been a favourite of mine since it was featured on a B-side a few years ago. This is a cover that has it all, Duritz’s vocals are warm and strong and the band feel as tight as ever backing him up.
‘Hospital’ the cover of the Coby Brown song really feels like a track the band have gotten their teeth into. Duritz’s voice sounds akin to how he performs songs live and has a rawness to it that works well for the recording. Moving into more familiar territory the cover of ‘Mercy’ (Tender Mercies) feels like the a band have put on a comfortable pair of slippers it’s so casually handled. That said, it’s not a lazy cover, it just feels like the one that’s lived in and enjoyed by the band.
‘Meet on the Ledge’ (Fairport Convention) sounds more like a B-side to be honest and not the strongest inclusion here. It does have a feeling that it could fit on Hard Candy or something of that era but the song really feels like it slows down the flow of this album even if the chorus is easy to sing along to. ‘Like Teenage Gravity’ (Kasey Anderson & The Honkies) is a song I’m less familiar with but feels distinctly Counting Crows. The slow build, the large amount of sentiment in the lyrics and how they’re delivered clicks perfectly with the band’s style and offers a real highlight on the album.
Back to old B-Side land, ‘Amie’ (Prairie League), which is a feel good ditty that I’ve always enjoyed the band covering. This one always has put a smile on my face and its no different here. The cover of ’Coming Around’ by Travis is an odd one. For a start the idea of the Counting Crows covering Travis baffles me. Like how the hell did these two bands ever live in the same universe of music? If they did I didn’t visit it. Anyway, other than the electronic sound overlaying Duritz’s voice and the fact the song feels way to jolly for the Crows, it’s not a bad cover and adds a different flavour to the tracks that came before it.
‘Ooh La La’ (The Faces) is another B-side but its one the band has fun with and it’s a good cover of the song celebrating the original and still making it a Counting Crows song all at the same time. I personally would have had this one as the last track of the album but that’s just me. ‘All My Failures’ (Dawes) again sounds like a song that could have been on Hand Candy in it’s style. It’s a slow burning, country feeling track that the band have reworked using all their strengths and feels like a very collaborative approach to the song.
‘Return of the Grievous Angel’ (Gram Parsons) is another familiar cover to any Crows fan. Once again it feels like the closing song of the album due to its loose, almost fun approach to the upbeat song but nope, we’re not at the end of this covers album yet. Next we’re into ‘Four White Stallions’ (Tender Mercies) which is a song I adore but I have to say I much prefer the more stripped back earlier versions than where this song has arrived over the years. The big guitar moments feel like they’re boosting the song to places it doesn’t need to go but it’s still a great song.
‘Jumping Jesus’ (Sordid Humor) is another song that’s been with the Crows for years and one that feels very, very familiar. ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ (Bob Dylan) is another old B-side and really does feel like a closing track to an album (man this album is full of them). It’s loose, it’s casual and it’s one that would be great live. So now we’re at the actual last track of this covers album, ‘The Ballad of El Goodo’ (Big Star) which I’ll take my hat off to the band and say this is a fine choice for the closer on the album. It wraps up everything nicely and has a melancholy feel to it that the Counting Crows do so well.
So that’s it. The Counting Crows are back with a new(ish) album. It’s a nice collection of songs that plays almost like an alternative best of due to the familiarity of the songs and their connection to the band’s history but this isn’t really an album I can see myself spending a lot of time with if I’m honest (mainly due to a large number of the songs been available elsewhere). Don’t get me wrong, I love this band and have done since August and Everything After but after such a long break since their last proper studio album Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings in 2008 (which wasn’t exactly their strongest effort) and only glimmers of new material (the exceptional ‘Hazy’ on the New Amsterdam: Live At Heineken Music Hall) I don’t really want more covers. I want and need a great new Counting Crows album in my life. Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) certainly fills a small gap but I’m hoping that the Counting Crows follow this up with a collection of new songs real soon.
Anyway, if you want to hear some of the album head over to http://www.countingcrows.com/ to do so.