September 17, 2014

KIRSHNER | August and Everything After: A Poetic Masterpiece by Counting Crows

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And I get no answers/And I don’t get no change.

It’s raining in Baltimore baby/But everything else is the same.

The recent release of Somewhere Under Wonderland, Counting Crows’ new album, has inspired me to write about the band’s first record: August and Everything After. A combination of piercing lyrics and inescapable emotion makes the Crows debut effort both profound and unmistakable.

August and Everything After is an allegory for much of life: Stimulating, complex and fraught with challenges, disappointments and rare moments of euphoria. And overall, quite the ride.

And in between the moon and you/the angels get a better view/of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.

Adam Duritz and the rest of the Crows kick off their masterpiece with “Round Here.” A song on the album that is not alone in deserving a review of its own, “Round Here” is the lyrical headliner of the collection. Effortlessly dissecting human nature as he wails throughout the album, no greater example of Duritz’s extraordinary insight into human failings can be found than in the line:

Round here we all look the same/Round here we talk just like lions/but we sacrifice like lambs.

The album has no shortage of lyrical gems; “Perfect Blue Buildings” and “Anna Begins” are two melodic, irresistible tracks that betray an agonizing sadness when listened to closely. “Anna Begins” tells the story of a brief, failed love affair with a friend. Duritz illustrates the strenuous situation through vivid descriptions of insomnia, referring to lying awake all night in silence as he considers the future of the relationship. This song, like many other Counting Crows tracks, tells a relatable story that is supported by snippets of dialogue. The song refers to conversations with Anna and a friend to express a general feeling of uncertainty and worry.

In “Perfect Blue Buildings,” Duritz sings:

In a perfect blue building/ I can’t keep my self away from me… how am I going to keep my self away from me…

His voice trails off as the track ends.

There are several songs on August and Everything After that might stand out if it were less spectacular. “Time and Time Again,” “Rain King,” “Omaha” and “Ghost Train,” are four songs that fall victim to this reality. All great songs that maintain the unique flavor of the album, they deserve much more attention than I am able to give them here.

“Mr. Jones” is the Crows’ largest commercial success to date. Although this is not my favorite song on August, it is particularly valuable for its ability to be catchy and upbeat, while still retaining the emotion and lyrical complexity of the rest of the album. Just before the refrain, as the guitar riffs escalate, Duritz pleads:

Believe in me/Help me believe in anything/I want to be someone who believes.

The intense and revealing lyrics of “August” are matched only by the performances’ emotional intensity and beauty. “A Murder of One” expresses the pervasive fear of looking back on one’s life with disappointment. It is an anthem of regret that pines for the infinite possibilities in childhood.

In “Raining In Baltimore,” Duritz steps to the edge of despair and calls back to us it from it. He calls to us, acknowledging his pain. He calls to us for relief, and we listen. At the moment, “Raining” stands out to me as the pinnacle of the album. It is deeply intimate and depressingly perceptive, beautiful and haunting all at the same time.

It is Counting Crows.

Elie Kirshner is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected].