Counting Crows have always been easy targets for those who like their Americana rougher than moonshine. The out-of-the-box-success of their 1993 debut, August And Everything After, raised the purists’ hackles despite an impeccable set of reference points (Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, even mid-period REM).
The whiff of Hollywood that clings to them, not to mention frontman Adam Duritz’s reputation as a Mick Hucknall-esque celebrity lothario, hasn’t helped. Somewhere Under Wonderland – their first studio album of original material in six years – won’t put the genie of uncoolness back in the bottle, but it does go a long way to reaffirming their standing as one of America’s most under-valued bands.
Spiralling eight-minute-opener Palisades Park is their statement of intent, coming on like Bruce Springsteen jacked up on On The Road, though it wears its ambition lightly. If the rest of the album isn’t as weighty, it’s no less engaging. The rootsy Earthquake Driver and Scarecrow play to the Americana heartland, though Dislocation and Elvis Went To Hollywood show they’re not afraid to crank up the guitars when the mood takes them. There’s a vague concept at work – dreamers dreaming of California – though it’s buried deep in Duritz’s abstract lyrics.
The sniffiness that surrounds Counting Crows is hardly warranted. Somewhere Under Wonderland isn’t a revolution, but it is assured, interesting and quietly experimental in its own way. Credibility be damned.