In reverting to a more youthful and retro sound, Sheryl Crow doesn’t find anything magical or exemplary in her run-down song forms and predictable melodies, and while being cute the album doesn’t necessarily go anywhere of importance.
One of the best qualities about this album was the effort and attention on melody that Crow had throughout. That may have been the only great quality, but it was much appreciated. Her sung lines always had nice presence and made the music easy to follow and understand. With that much importance given to the melodic layer, it had no room for error in creating something impactful or memorable. Sadly, there were no home runs, and the lines themselves rarely had the independence or the strength to carry the songs. While outlining the form well, the form itself was a crutch throughout and restricted Crow’s ability to create anything incredibly captivating. The formula went as such: lifeless verse, some moments of interest in chorus, lifeless verse, aforementioned chorus moments lose some interest. Her melodies came across much better when given the space and freedom that choruses within this form can typically give. That space needed to be everywhere, though, and her songwriting form restricted her from possibly achieving more consistent intrigue. The song “Rollers Skate” was one of her more successful melodic ventures but exemplifies this recurring problem very well. Other than lacking substance in the verses, the melodies also attached themselves very closely to the harmony, which is a safe and underwhelming tactic that normally comes about as a default instead of actually trusting your ear. The melodies had great presence and purpose within the songs, but not so great execution.
Harmony was the juggernaut of this album, for good or for bad. I’m sure that many Cheryl Crow skeptics take one listen to her downtrodden, simple, and obvious chord progressions and decide it’s simply not worth their time. It’s hard to disagree with those sentiments, because these harmonies were indeed rather tedious. They weren’t exactly over-used or flat-out dumb, though; there were quite a few deviations from the norm that also stayed consistent and structurally helpful to the music. That said, the jams of I and IV, I II and IV, I vi and IV, I bVI bVII, etc. just weren’t enthusiastic or inspiring enough. In fact, the 4 chord devil of vi IV I V in the song “Strangers Again” was actually quite welcomed at the time because it did provide nice function and allowed for a more invigorated structure (which normally gives off a false sense of security in any other circumstance). With no unique rhythm or drive within itself, the result was an album that simply trotted along for 45 minutes going nowhere of importance. It’s overall slow pace and lack of purposeful motion overshadowed the existence of harmonic deviations. “Love Will Save the Day” is a good example of that issue. So, despite using more than four chords the harmony was rather boring and dull, but it nevertheless kept its cool and gave something to the melodic layer and to the overall mood of the music.
At least Crow has enough strong musicality and sense of self-worth to not settle on a completely mainstream country sound. There was enough instrumental manipulation and quality texture shifts to already be operating at a level higher than most every country musician today. In one word, I would describe the sound of this album as “cute”. The large reliance on both acoustic and electric guitar came off as rather odd and unnecessary, but it was nothing too detrimental aside from being a little tongue-in-cheek. Everything was rather plain and subdued with no worthwhile adds except for the nice harmonica and small percussion here and there. Everything was subservient to the voice, which helped the melody stand out but may have not given the whole body of music great substance to thrive on. It did achieve a sense of comfort and comprehension that was rather necessary, but it dropped a lot of its potential strength in order to do so. The song “Rest of Me” is one that exemplifies a rather inane yet familiar sound that was present throughout the album. Crow did well with building to important moments and highlighting changes of mood through sound, but not a whole lot of interest was generated through what was given. The timbre was just enough for what the music asked for, which wasn’t much in the first place. Again, it was cute, and that’s really it.
This is Sheryl Crow’s 10th album, and by now her audience seems to be confined to guilty pleasure listeners that grew up in the 90’s, or the older generation once captivated by Crow who now don’t pay attention to any new music being made anyway. Fans of Crow’s past work will enjoy this, as she goes back to a more 90’s and spirited mood, but she won’t be gaining any new fans with this release. It isn’t timeless, and it doesn’t provide anything unique to the present day. It’s only a worthwhile experience if her sound is an important part of your past, which it is to many people, so I won’t discredit that.
Final Score: 106/180