Delayed Reaction: Sucking on Counting Crows’ Hard Candy

As with most bands that were popular in the ’90s, I came to the Counting Crows rather late in the game (like, around 2002 or so). While August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites are obvious and pretty much indisputable classics at this point, I’m not sure the same holds true for the albums that came after. This Desert Life feels like the band decided to abandon any semblance of rock and roll for a slightly folky, Rod Stewart-meets-Van Morrison-doing-adult-contemporary sorta vibe (though I still love “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” from that record, I don’t care what you think). And then there’s Hard Candy.

Now, I’ll admit that when this album first came out, I listened to it on repeat for about three months, basically. But in the past six or seven years, it hasn’t come up on the iPod much. I decided to give it a spin yesterday, to see if it held up after all this time.

The good news is, the good songs on the record are still very, very good. Unfortunately, I’ve developed less of a tolerance for Adam Duritz’s vocal affectations, and several of the songs are just a slow, mellow mess of blah. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Things start off right with the neo-Byrdsian title track, with its ringing electric twelve string intro and its singalong chorus, remains my favorite song on the record. From there, the album goes to 2002 Top-40 Radio staple “American Girls,” a song which I admit strikes me as just really annoying ten years on. From there, things move into slow jam territory with “Good Time,” a song I just went ahead and skipped over (I didn’t care for it back in 2002, either). From there, the album alternates between upbeat, slightly off-kilter songs that I really enjoy like “If I Could Give All My Love to You (Richard Manuel Is Dead),” “New Frontier,” and “Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)”, slower songs that aren’t too bad like “Why Should You Come When I Call” and “Holiday in Spain,” and songs that I just find boring, which is essentially everything else.

Other tracks on the album include the snooze-fests that are “Carriage,” “Miami,” and “Black and Blue” and the downright unlistenable “Butterfly in Reverse” (co-written by Ryan Adams). The most egregious misstep, though, is the band’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi,” a track hidden at the end of “Holiday in Spain.” The song really does nothing that the original didn’t, except for smoothing out the sound of Joni Mitchell’s original into a mellow, non-threatening flan of nothing particularly interesting (don’t even get me started on the single version of the song, which features Vanessa Carlton on some of the most annoying and unnecessary backing vocals in music history).

Ultimately, Hard Candy is a decent if rather flawed album. The good songs are really quite good, and stand up to anything else in the band’s catalog. Others are…not so great, not so much because they’re bad but because they don’t aspire to do anything particularly interesting or worthwhile. The middle part of the album especially feels like a slow slog through bland, uninspired drivel. The album’s chief sin isn’t bad music, just bland music with flat, boring lyrics and instrumentation.

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