Sheryl Crow is one of those consistently solid, often impressive young rockers who has managed, in her decade-long career, to defy sub-rock classification, and simply make fine music. Sheryl remains one of the few major label artists who not only fully understands the power of straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, but can take a pretty excellent crack at it herself. Her last studio album, 1998’s The Globe Sessions, remains one of the tightest solo rock albums of the past decade — it’s a great album. Go out and buy it.
Crow’s follow-up to “The Globe Sessions” is an inferior effort, but by no means a failure. Globe Sessions was a pared-down, brooding exercise in knife-sharp lyricism and strong choruses, and 2002’s C’mon, C’mon retains much of the strength to be expected of Crow, while dulling the edge slightly. It’s a less precise album.
It’s better-produced, certainly, sprinkled with flashier effects, more strings and more celebrity collaboration. But then, the charm of The Globe Sessions was in its roughness, as if it were an album that been assembled during a series of brass-knuckle rock out sessions– at the Globe, I suppose. C’mon, C’mon is a glossier record, and it’s this gloss which ends up working against Crow.
The album’s title track is the best example of this overproduction. It’s a valid enough three-chord rock tune, without a particularly good hook, that feels more grandiose than it should. The chorus, a simple one, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, break my heart again for old time’s sake,” would sound better acoustic. Instead, it’s backed by a luscious band. The full sound of the song in juxtaposition with the safe, bland wording (not so typical of Crow) only accentuates the feeling of a sort of hollowness beneath the production. This is not a bad song, just a strangely empty one.
The song that follows, “It’s So Easy,” suffers from this same overproduction, only to a much more irritating extent. Here, Sheryl is joined by ex-Eagles frontman Don Henley and backed by an entirely superfluous string section to sing a chorus that we’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times before: “Loving you baby is breaking my heart tonight. It’s so easy but it isn’t right.” This is an ill-conceived song that merits neither the talents of Crow or Henley. Its boldness in sound seems merely an attempt to overcompensate for the shortcomings of the song in lyricism and originality. It’s one to skip.
Fortunately, Crow is so good at what she does that she manages to recuperate from the one-two blow of “C’mon, C’mon” and “It’s So Easy” and run the rest of the album like a marathon. “Over You” is a smart little rock piece that traverses the well-worn territory of breakups, but does it with such drive that one can’t help but want to listen to it over and over again in the car. It’s that kind of song.
“Lucky Kid” is as strong a rock song as you’re likely to hear this year — a stage for the sexy, scratchy contours of Crow’s great voice — a song that punches its way right into that part of your brain that makes songs get stuck in your permanent mental playlist, to be withdrawn every morning, the first song you think of when you wake. It’s that good.
And so the latter half of “C’mon, C’mon” finds Crow picking up the slack of the shakier first half, churning out indefatigable songs, one after another, with only minor pitfalls. “Diamond Road” feels overcooked, but Crow’s voice pulls it through gracefully. “Hole in my Pocket” is a playful one, not especially memorable in its own right, but impossible to refuse, like all the rest.
This is infinitely listenable stuff, and it’s infinitely better than what passes for rock nowadays. It’s never quite as groovy as The Globe Sessions or as dark as Crow’s second self-titled release. It’s an album without the perfect edge of these two. (This much is apparent in liner notes of “C’mon, C’mon,” showing Sheryl dolled up, undressed, posing on the beach like a matured Britney Spears.) It’s got spirit, though, even in its least inspired moments. And points must be awarded for that.
The album’s closer, “Weather Channel,” is a small triumph — a sheer, acoustic, heartbreaking song in which Crow’s she-rock predecessor Emmylou Harris joins in, to much better effect than Henley. It’s exactly the note that this album should hit as it ends — contrapuntal to the jauntier, lighter material found elsewhere on the record. It reminds us of exactly who Sheryl Crow is, even when she trips over her own toolbox. She is the most precious of musical creatures, a singer/songwriter/musician who can be as sad as she is flirtatious, who can be as nasty as she is beautiful, who can be as loud as she is soft. Crow is that rare breed that sounds equally good when using an ax or stiletto. Either way, she gets the job done.
Just as long as her blade is sharp, Crow should have a long, illustrious career, straddling the rift of genre-fied pop, and carrying the torch for the good stuff. She’s certainly off to a fine start.