Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sheryl Crow Underwhelming Wildflower Is Unremarkable On Too Many Levels.

The Good: Vocals are good, A few lyrics
The Bad: Instrumental accompaniment is utterly unremarkable, SHORT!
The Basics: Unremarkable in virtually every way, Wildflower is a letdown to those who like Sheryl Crow for how bland it is overall.

As I near the bottom of the month and the end of my exploration of the works of Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow, I find myself considering Sheryl Crow's album Wildflower. All I truly knew about Wildflower was that it was released after Sheryl Crow's definitive "best of" album and that when Media Play was going out of business in my area, the album they still had at the very end by the caseload was Wildflower. I swear, right before the franchise went bust, they bought into Sheryl Crow big and this might have been one of the most clearanced albums of 2005/6.

Now, after listening to Wildflower a dozen times, I suspect that only those who bought the album on clearance truly were thrilled with their purchase. The album is surprisingly short for a compact disc, surprisingly uncomplicated in its instrumentals and lyrically is equally average-at-best. In fact, the album - whose greatest hit is "Good Is Good" - is utterly forgettable outside the track "Perfect Lie" as Sheryl Crow sounds mellow and bored with herself on the album.

With only eleven songs, clocking out at 46:41, Wildflower is another Sheryl Crow album that is a collaborative effort for the artist. In fact, more than any other album since her debut, Sheryl Crow works with others on this album. Crow wrote only four of the songs on her own and the other seven are co-written by her long-time instrumentalists John Shanks and Jeff Trott, who also act as co-producers on the album with Crow. While Sheryl Crow performs all of the lead vocals - in that regard, this is very much Sheryl Crow's work - she shares the instrumental duties with Shanks and Trott, so the album is more like the collaborative works of the trio than just the musical vision of Sheryl Crow.

The problem with Wildflower is that the songs are generally dull and the sound of the album is slow and mushy. The rock edge of Sheryl Crow is largely lost to a mix of quiet ballads ("Chances Are") and indistinct anthems ("Perfect Lie") which are completely forgettable after one is done listening to the album and the songs on it. So, for example, Sheryl Crow's song "Good Is Good" has her vocals dominating the song to such an extent that after a day and a half of listening to this album on high replay, I cannot honestly say if she is simply harmonizing to a very quiet tune or if the instrumentals to that song are something completely different. After that song, the tracks are almost all quiet guitar tracks without any memorable tune or theme to them.

On this album, Crow does seem eager to get more credibility as a Country-pop artist as opposed to a pop-rock artist where she gained her initial popularity. Songs like the title track and "I Don't Want To Know" have more of a Country-pop tradition with the quiet, folksy tune and the use of the pedal steel. Crow is lighter sounding with her instrumentals and - ironically for me - her use of the pedal steel fits into an assumed paradigm that if the pedal steel is used, the song is Country, not rock. The use of other instrumentation does not make the album significantly better or even more memorable. This is a quiet, slow album.

The forgettable nature of Wildflower is accented by Crow's vocals. On songs like “Wildflower,” she stretches to the highest pitches she is able and the result is a wispier, quieter vocal that sounds more like Merril Bainbridge than Sheryl Crow. She harmonizes with herself on "Lifetimes" in such a way that makes one why she bothered to hire Liz Phair for background vocals for "Soak Up The Sun" on her album before this one. But on this album, Sheryl Crow deserves some real credit for the fact that she does stretch her vocals to more of a soprano range than she usually does. This album has her growing vocally.

Unfortunately, she does not seem to have all that much to say on Wildflower. On one of the most poppy tracks on the album - the result of the keyboards and production as opposed to Crow's vocals - she sings melancholy lines with a narcoleptic quality that is made worse by the particularly uninspired refrain. For one who has rocked, the rather unchallenging rhyme scheme from the lines "We could live lifetimes in a single day / No matter what you do / I love you anyway / You say you feel lost inside, well I get lonely, too / Even in the worst of times, I give my best to you" ("Lifetimes"). Crow's rhymes are largely predictable on this album and that is disappointing.

Moreover, on several songs, she sets up her lines to be unfortunately obvious. In "Letter To God," she uses the word "test," before ending a line with "East," setting up an obvious "west" to close the subsequent line. Too many of the lines in that song are either predictable in bland ways or rhyme with lines that make the seasoned music listener cringe.

This is not to say the entire album is a wash on the lyrics. On "Perfect Lie," Crow has a wonderful sense of emotion when she sings "Help, help is on the way / That's what they all say / It's a thing that they don't know / 'Cause I, I know everything / And maybe it's just a ring / But that won't make me let it go / Look at your face it doesn't look like it did / You give away everything now that your here / You, you want to be only / To never get lonely / So you opened up your arms and let me in . . ." ("Perfect Lie"). On that song, Crow has a pretty wonderful sense of imagery that works beautifully for her.

Unfortunately, that is the exception to the rule on Wildflower. The vast majority of the songs are flat-out boring and the album has a repetitive, indistinct quality to it that makes it easy to pass by.

For other works by Sheryl Crow, please visit my reviews of:
Tuesday Night Music Club
Sheryl Crow
The Globe Sessions
C’Mon, C’Mon
The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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