There's something I need to get off my chest. While bright little pockets of hope remain here and there for the venerable institution of rock and roll -- I'm thinking particularly of the young and surging Jimmy Eat World, and the reformed and resurgent Gin Blossoms -- they remain mere oases in an increasingly barren musical wasteland. Never mind the scorched earth that is pop today; even the harder stuff is pathetically faceless today. I mean really, if I have to listen to one more overprivileged white kid growl over lumbering post-grunge power chords about how much the world sucks, I may puke on my keyboard. Three words, boys: get over it.
It's springtime and, despite abundant evidence of man's fallibility (not to mention the destructive nature of blind faith in anything), the world does not appear to be coming to an end anytime soon -- and if it does, it certainly won't be because some pouty suburban rap-metal singer's girlfriend dumped him. More likely, it will be because the world's musicians and poets and painters and actors all forgot how to create a frank, engaging, skillful and fundamentally human work of art like C'mon C'mon.
Sheryl Crow's fourth album is a musical coming-of-age in the truest sense. At 40, she's twice the age of most of her competition at the top of the charts, but she has used her time so well, honing her craft and earning a compelling body of self-knowledge, that she's finally ready to deliver a real musical statement.
C'mon C'mon, it has been said elsewhere, feels at times like a throwback to the classic summer albums of the seventies, shot through with sunny optimism and images of the road and the wind in your hair and a belief in life's possibilities. And that's true in places, especially on the opening ignition-blastoff one-two punch of the raucous, airy "Steve McQueen" (complete with patented Steve Miller Band "woo-hoo"s) and the witty, bouncy "Soak Up The Sun." But this emotionally complex and often soul-searching album falls about as far thematically from the lightweight, homogeneous pap dominating the charts as you could possibly ask for. It's tempting to say C'mon C'mon harks back to the summer of '78 or so, but a truer comparison would be U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. It's that rare bird: an album of stirring, yet undeniably mature rock and roll.
One of the keys is that, after following the raw, sardonic pop of Tuesday Night Music Club with the aggressively retro Sheryl Crow and the almost studious classic rock of The Globe Sessions, Crow has rediscovered her sense of humor. Her wise, acerbic wit shines again and again here: "We've got rock stars in the White House / All our pop stars look like porn"… "I ain't got digital / I ain't got diddley squat / It's not having what you want / It's wanting what you've got"… "I, I've got a hole in my pocket / You give me love and I drop it / I just throw it away."
But the sense of playfulness that Crow has reintroduced is just one of a huge range of emotional shadings she achieves here. Every song carries with it both a memorable melody and an unmistakable purpose -- you won't find any wasted effort or throwaway tracks here. There's the serious stuff: chiefly the urgent, timelessly melodic folk-rock of the title track (featuring harmony vocals from pal Stevie Nicks), and the shimmering, transcendant optimism of "Diamond Road." And the not-so-serious, as in the sizzling grrl-rocker "Lucky Kid" and the irresistibly hooky nugget "Hole In My Pocket." Want more? How about a pair of gorgeous country-rock ballads, the comfortable-as-an-old-pair-of-shoes "It's Only Love" (featuring Crow mentor Don Henley) and the keening, note-perfect "Abilene" (featuring Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines). Or a little musical contrast -- Crow goes for heavy, shiny funk with fellow retrophile Lenny Kravitz on "You're An Original," but sounds just as natural dueting with the angelic Emmylou Harris on the meditative closing ballad "Weather Channel."
In a concession to modern fashion, Crow (who produced the album herself, in addition to writing or co-writing every song) tops off these songs with a magician's bag of sonic flourishes. The proof of her mastery comes in the fact that these loops, backbeats, sonic squiggles and electronic tones consistently embellish without becoming obtrusive, filling out the songs' palette rather than interfering with their flow. The album's multiple guest vocalists are used to similar effect -- not as stunt-casting, but as complements to the most expressive singing of Crow's career.
C'mon C'mon is one of those special albums that manages to hit all the right notes, on which every track has something a little bit unique to offer, while the package as a whole brims with both raw energy and careful attention to detail. There are a lot of labels you could slap on a piece of work of this caliber, but I'd rather just call it what it is -- the best rock and roll album of 2002, so far.