Arts, Music

Counting Crows Heads In The Right Direction With ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’

Adam Duritz, lead singer of the popular rock group Counting Crows, is widely known for his personal, deliberate lyrics. Duritz has been a strong advocate for those suffering with mental illness since his career started in the early ’90s, and he frequently turns to his music to portray his own battle with depersonalization disorder, a dissociative disorder that greatly inhibits a person’s sense of self, and his illness limits the extent to which he can be present to the world going on around him.

That said, Duritz has created tangible presence in his music––something real and significant and much harder for him to ignore. “All my songs are where I am,” Duritz said in a 2004 interview with Teen Hollywood. Certainly, this could be said of Counting Crows’ past albums, which have contained lyrics that were specific to Duritz and his worldview. Somewhere Under Wonderland, however, is more than that. Released on Tuesday, Counting Crows’ newest album takes a liberating and exciting leap, delving into the lives of many, instead of just one.

Somewhere Under Wonderland includes the first new music Counting Crows has released in two years. The most obvious differences are simple: the subject matter, the speaker, and the way the story is told. Departing from the band’s typical lyrics—ones close to Duritz’s own experiences—Wonderland’s are less focused. Vacillating between confusingly haphazard and pleasantly whimsical, the storytelling in this album encompasses diverse elements of Americana culture. It’s not about Duritz, it’s about the world’s passersby and the lives they’ve led.

The first track of Wonderland is entitled “Palisades Park” after the New Jersey amusement park, and it embodies all the vibrant energy the now-closed attraction represented. For an artist who grew up in Northern California, it is clear that this subject matter isn’t exactly personal to Duritz. Instead, the song details the experiences of a man named Andy. “Palisades Park” itself is over nine minutes long, sparing no expense to tell what Duritz and the rest of the band consider a valuable, important story. Andy is a dreamer with plans to see and experience the world, and the song portrays his life amid fanciful, eccentric lyrics and beautiful melodies. “Palisades Park” is just one of the many vignettes told in the album.

With a leisurely listen, though, Somewhere Under Wonderland is sure to appeal to those who enjoy the acoustic, upbeat rock of Counting Crows. Sure, there are allusions made to other genres (“Palisades Park” begins with a soft jazz intro; “Scarecrow” is reminiscent of classic American rock; and “John Appleseed’s Lament” features a slight gospel sound, for example), but each song is unmistakably, unapologetically Counting Crows. For all the attention given to different stories­—ranging from New Jersey to Hollywood in “Elvis Went to Hollywood”—the band’s familiar ring enhances each track. This album release marks its first significant work with Capitol Records, a shift made specifically to support the group’s popularity. Through successful records, covers of popular music, and interaction with fans through a variety of music and lyric videos, Counting Crows has secured a loyal and vast fanbase. Before Wonderland’s official release, Counting Crows’ YouTube account created both music videos and lyric videos for various songs: “God of Ocean Tides,” “Scarecrow,” and “Earthquake Driver,” to name a few.

The powerful melody in “Dislocation,” and the fun, familiar beats of “Earthquake Driver” and “John Appleseed’s Lament” ensure enough variety and character to keep listeners entertained. Although there are weaker tracks, and some whose lyrics seem to ramble more than convey (“Elvis Went to Hollywood” specifically seems to aim itself toward something intellectual but is really bizarre), the album as a whole is a sure success. It is a new direction for the band, but ultimately a change Counting Crows makes with grace. Under the guidance of Capitol Records, Counting Crows put together a record that resonates with fans even as it explores new territory.

Featured Image Courtesy of Capitol Records

September 3, 2014