Monday, November 14, 2011

With Some Distance, Sheryl Crow Is Rather Generic Rock And Roll.

The Good: A few inspired songs, Decent instrumentals
The Bad: Largely uncomplicated vocals, instrumentals and lyrics, Could be longer.
The Basics: A good album, but hardly extraordinary, Sheryl Crow resonates now more for the social commentaries than the pop hits.

Perspective is a good thing and as I listen to the 1996 Grammy Winner for Best Rock Album, I wonder if voters would still have given it to Sheryl Crow for her eponymous album if they knew how forgettable the album would become. I write this at the top of my consideration of Sheryl Crow, despite recommending the album, because outside the four songs that made it onto The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow is not that it is bad, but rather that it leaves very little impression. The vocals on many of the songs are overproduced - as I write this, "Oh Marie" plays and I wonder if I weren't listening to a Sheryl Crow album if I would even guess it was Crow singing by the vocals - and the instrumentals are unmemorable outside a few tunes, which are sadly the predictable, overplayed radio singles. Even so, there is just enough to this album to enjoy and given the opportunity to listen to it, I certainly recommend anyone who likes pop-rock give it a spin. But for a permanent collection, this would be a much tougher sell for me.

With thirteen songs clocking out at 56:34, Sheryl Crow is hardly an ambitious use of the c.d. medium and truth-be-told, for an eponymous album is remarkably light on Crow's talents. Sheryl crow wrote only three of the songs on her own, with the other ten being co-written by her and others, most frequently her guitarist on the album, Jeff Trott. Sheryl Crow provides all of the primary vocals and she also produces the album. As well, she performs multiple instruments on the album, including electric and acoustic guitars, ordinary and Moog bass, piano, harmonium, keyboards, Hammond organ and Wurlitzer. So, as the title suggests this is very much the musical vision of Sheryl Crow.

The thing is, songs like "Everyday Is A Winding Road," "If It Makes You Happy," "Sweet Rosalyn" and even the album opener, "Maybe Angels" seem to have Crow presenting herself as a harder edge than the woman who rose to stardom on the song "All I Wanna Do." The problem, though, is that that idea is undermined early on by the presentation of the pure pop song "A Change," which I recall fondly from my college days as a friend used to do the Snoopy dance to it. Even "Home" does not sound badass the way Crow wants people to think of her as, as lines like "I still get stoned" ("If It Makes You Happy") imply she wants people to think of her.

Even so, Sheryl Crow is a generally direct guitar-based rock album and the songs tend to have a very rich sound. Outside "Home" there are no stark tracks, and Crow seems obsessed with filling the album with sound to make it work. One imagines acoustic versions of some of the more busy songs, like "Everyday Is A Winding Road" would have the potential to be even more compelling than they already are. "Redemption Day" starts with a lonely sound and while Crow maintains the vocals at the forefront of the song, she continues to add instruments to it in a way that makes it sound more sloppy than rich.

As well, "Redemption Day" illustrates one of the fundamental problems with the album, which is in the vocals. While songs like "A Change" and "If It Makes You Happy" might be annoying - or they were in 1997 when they were in high rotation here - at least the vocals on them come fairly clearly from Sheryl Crow. On most of the non-radio tracks, the vocals are produced such that almost every line is enhanced or altered through production elements. She sounds somewhat robotic on refrains of "Hard To Make A Stand" (which is problematic regardless because the song sounds so much like "Ruby Tuesday" in places) and artificially whispery on "Oh Marie." Having seen Crow on television performing live, as well as acoustic versions of some of her songs, there is very little of Crow's voice left unaltered on this album.

So, much of what makes the album worth recommending is in what Crow actually has to say. Crow is fairly socially conscious on this album and she uses her pulpit to rail against capitalism with lines like ""Watch out sister, watch out brother, / Watch our children while they kill each other / With a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores" ("Love Is A Good Thing") and she encourages thoughtful rebellion with "Hard To Make A Stand." In this way, Crow delivers something worthwhile on Sheryl Crow that is still meaningful today.

But outside some of the more famous tracks, much of the album is forgettable. Crow begins her obsession with listing things as a way of telling a story (or, more accurately, continues it). So, on songs like "Oh Marie," Crow characterizes her musical protagonists or subjects with long lists of things that do little other than list. Indeed, listening to her sing "She likes the way she looks in her Camaro / She likes lingerie but he prefers the sombrero / She's so famous on the block / She stumbles home around four o'clock / She claims the guys are hard to please / She wears teen perfume behind her knees" ("Oh Marie") it begins to become more tiresome than impressive.

As well, many of the songs are very repetitive lyrically. The refrain "My little superstar, oh baby that's what you are / My little superstar, oh honey you break my heart" ("Superstar") is grating as Crow sings it over and over and over again. This is, sadly, repeated on many of the songs.

But the radio hits and the other two songs I find myself coming back to is enough for anyone who likes decent pop-rock to enjoy Sheryl Crow, but it does make me wonder what else was out in 1996 that Crow beat with this album for her Grammy.

The best song is "Everyday Is A Winding Road," the low point is the unmemorable and murky "The Book."

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


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed in the specialized index page with links to reviews, ordered by rating here!

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

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