So then three years later, they released this album, and what a change has taken place. Gone is the bare bones production of T-Bone Burnett, replaced by the sympathetic, but still fairly raw, sonic honing of veteran Gil Norton. Adam Duritz's songwriting is flawless and the (vastly underrated) band play as a far more pleasing whole. It is my favourite Counting Crows album and one of my favourite albums of all time.
It opens with a "Strawberry Fields"-like organ line, leading into "Catapult", a song in which Duritz sets up the mood for what follows, singing "What a big baby / Won't somebody save me please?" Duritz's voice, while never pitch perfect, is nevertheless ideal for this sort of song, positively crying out in loneliness and desperation. "Someone should be with me here / ('Cause I don't wanna be alone)."
"Angels of the Silences" is the first song that tells you this is going to be a different ride than the previous album, with it's punk-esque guitar and frantic pace. It's followed by the most Country-esque song on the album, "Daylight Fading".
The sequencing of songs on the album is slightly odd, because we're still just getting into it. "I'm Not Sleeping" is memorable for it's piercing strings line and it's insomniacal lyrics, possibly written in frustration at four in the morning! "1-2-3-4-5-6-7 am / All alone again." The strings fairly throb in sympathy.
"Goodnight Elizabeth" is next and it's an album highlight for most, showcasing Duritz's songwriting at it's most beautiful but vulnerable. "We couldn't all be cowboys / So some of us are clowns". Great stuff! It also showcases David Bryson's wonderful guitar playing - I really think the band deserves more credit than they get. Yes, it's Duritz's show but these guys are a phenomenal support cast.
Next is one of my favourites, "Children in Bloom", with Duritz returning to his favourite theme of dislocation and uncertainty. "I gotta get out of this sunlight / It's melting my bones." The opening chord is stunning and the closing guitar solo is inspired. It's a perfect song.
If you want to understand just how far Duritz's emotional state has moved on since the last album, you only have to contrast "Mr Jones" with the next song, "Have You Seen Me Lately?" In "Mr Jones" Duritz sings "We all wanna be big stars . . . " In this song Duritz ruminates on the possibility that he is merely a voice on someone's radio, singing to his fans "You got a piece of me / But it's just a little piece of me." It shows his disillusionment perfectly, while set to one of the bounciest and light-hearted tracks on the album - a great juxtaposition.
On "Miller's Angels" Duritz's voice has rarely been bettered. When he sings "In the shadow of God's unwavering love / I am a fortunate son" even a cynical atheist like me is moved to tears! A wonderful piano and voice track, with a superbly subtle backing from the band, it's another highlight.
For me the next two tracks are the centrepiece of the whole album. "Another Horsedreamer's Blues" is a stunning song, telling a story of a gambling dreamer. Duritz sings the line "One of these days she's gonna throw the whole bottle down" with such rage in his voice. There's a gorgeous Wurlitzer electric piano line on this song.
My absolute favourite song on the album is the title track "Recovering the Satellites". Duritz is back at the theme of displacement, singing "It's a lifetime commitment / Recovering the satellites / All anybody wants to know is / When you gonna come down?" Anyone who's been there knows what he's talking about . . .
"Monkey" is a Ben Fold's-esque piano number (he even mentions Fold's name in the song!), and "Mercury" is another song in the country vein.
"A Long December" is Duritz doing what he does best, a wonderful conversational piece ("It's been so long since I've seen the ocean . . . I guess I should") with a piano part to die for.
So how do you end a perfect album? With a perfect little song. "Walkaway" is 1:10 of genius, just Duritz's voice and Bryson's guitar, sending us on our way with "Someday I'm gonna stay / But not today".
I can't even begin to describe what effect this album has had on my life. I bought it when it came out and I've been listening to it constantly ever since. It never loses it's appeal and always lifts my spirits. It's glorious.
That's all. So there.
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