Counting Crows - The Desert Life Counting Crows
The Desert Life
(DGC)
½


The Counting Crows' third studio album comes across as a looser collection than their first two discs, August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites, sounding almost like it was recorded live without overdubs. While past discs had a melancholy sheen that kept the mood of the disc precious and poetic throughout, This Desert Life opens with the pop-piano riff of the single "Hanginaround," which (unlike the radio single) degenerates into a hootin' and handclappin' ending. This live, organic feel continues as the album segues into the upbeat country-leaning "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," which features singer Adam Duritz's trademark chorus style and references the character from the band's hit "'Round Here" noting in that "there's a piece of Maria in every song that I sing/and the price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings."

In "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" Duritz brings in that familiar melancholy vibe, wishing "If I could make it rain today/and wash away this sunny day down to the gutter I would/just to get a change of pace."

But things pick up again to a mid-tempo rock beat almost immediately with "Four Days," where Duritz singes "All I want is something good." And "I Wish I Was a Girl" with a fuzzy guitar and left field lyric, turns out to be one of the band's sharpest offerings to date, referencing another past song character, "Elizabeth," as Duritz sings of "going down to Hollywood/They're gonna make a movie from the things that they find crawling round my brain."

"All My Friends" features a string-laden chorus with a typical Duritz treatment of lonliness that will have listeners identifying with, and singing along almost immediately. He sings, "All my friends and lovers leave me behind/I'm still looking for a girl/one way or another/I'm just hoping to find a way/to put my feet out in the world."

Overall, The Desert Life seems more easy-going than the band's past two discs, and its end includes an unlisted segment with a rockin' bonus track and some studio patter showing how "goofy" the band is when working in the studio. This looseness makes the album seem less diamond-pure than their first two discs, but it also gives it a more immediate feel almost as if the band is jamming there in your living room. With these 10 tracks, Duritz continues to prove himself one of modern rock's top poets and melody makers. Don't miss this one.

 

George Michael - Songs From The Last CenturyGeorge Michael
Songs From The Last Century
(Virgin)


I can't think of a singularly more painful music experience than of listening to George Michael murder The Police's "Roxanne." The second track on Michael's fourth studio CD, which is a tribute to songwriters of the 1900s, Michael turns "Roxanne"into a dirgey lounge-jazz number that would be too slow for elevator music.

Michael is more true to the spirit of some of the other artists he covers here the slow jazz of the Depression-era "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," is appropriate, as it is on the early '70s Roberta Flack vehicle "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" or the quiet melancholy of the Doris Day hit "Secret Love."

Producer Phil Ramone brings together a top-notch studio band to handle these glossy orchestral charts, and Michael's breathy delivery certainly provides them with appropriate drama.

But who is this album aimed at?

Certainly his 20-30something pop fans will not be interested in hearing Michael croon like the leader of the house lounge band at the downtown Marriott.

After years of absence from the album racks during a protracted contract battle with Sony in the early to mid-90s and the subsequent release of a lackluster third solo album, Older, in 1997, this CD seems like career suicide.

Buy it for your grandparents (or if you're already over 50 yourself), but don't look for any class pop moments to compare with Michael's previous "Careless Whisper," "Faith," "I Want Your Sex," or "Praying for Time."

 

Reissues from The Clash, Steve Hackett


The Story Of The Clash The Clash as a band has been history now for 15 years, but Epic has just completed a massive re-release project of the band's five original studio albums and four collections.

The CDs have been digitally remastered with the help of the band and repackaged with its original album artwork.

The band's first disc, The Clash, has been released in the U.S. for the first time in its original 1977 U.K. version (which had some different tracks than the later 1979 U.S. release). Likewise, 1991's The Singles collection has been released in the U.S. for the first time, joining 1988's 28-song two-CD The Story of the Clash Volume 1, which includes all but a handful of the tracks from The Singles, and then some. Also reissued is Super Black Market Clash, a collection of B-sides and singles and the three-CD box set Clash on Broadway.

And fans who haven't converted their old LPs to CD can now go out and pick up the band's second LP, 1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope and The Clash's seminal London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock, the latter of which produced their biggest hits "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and "Rock the Casbah." The reissues follow a VH-1 "Legends" episode on the band and the release of the first live retrospective collection from The Clash, From Here To Eternity, which came out and was reviewed here late last year.

* * * * *

Steve Hackett made his name as one of the founding guitarists for Genesis during the Peter Gabriel years. Since his departure from the band in the late '70s shortly after Gabriel, he has probably maintained the lowest profile of the band's original members.

But he hasn't just been sitting home twiddling his thumbs. Outside of a brief flirt with superstardom in the mid-80s on the one-album platinum collaboration with Yes guitarist Steve Howe in GTR, Hackett has worked as a solo artist in a variety of acoustic and orchestral outlets, which haven't lent themselves to pop radio play.

The English Snapper Music label has now recently released three excellent albums from Hackett two of them remastered reissues of his early '90s CDs Guitar Noir and the hard-to-find live acoustic CD There Are Many Sides to the Night. These are mellow acoustic guitar-oriented albums perfect for relaxing background music.

The third disc from Snapper, however, will be of wider interest to fans of the progressive rock scene of the early '70s. The Tokyo Tapes captures on two CDs a 1997 concert that brought Hackett together with King Crimson/Asia vocalist John Wetton, Crimson/Foreigner veteran multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, Genesis/Weather Report drummer Chester Thompson and longtime Hackett keyboard collaborator Julian Colbeck.

The group covered a wealth of the best songs from the early Genesis and King Crimson catalogue, from Genesis' "Watcher of the Skies," "Firth of Fifth," "I Know What I Like" and "Los Endos" to Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King" and "I Talk to the Wind." They also cover Asia's "Heat of the Moment," and some of Hackett's solo material. The first disc includes unlisted bonus tracks, and the second includes video footage from the concert. This is a definite treasure for progressive rock fans.