Films About Ghosts / The Best Of

Counting Crows

Geffen Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Counting Crows shouldn't work.

A band born in the grungy/trendy '90s, playing retrophile music of daring integrity and artistry. A band that so frankly revolves around one individual -- singer/songwriter Adam Duritz -- and yet builds rather than loses a collective musical identity over time. A band that nearly drowned under the tidal wave of praise that swamped their first album, then resurfaced at three-year intervals with three more albums, each both brilliant and flawed, each a courageous effort to further the band's musical growth.

It shouldn't work, but it does.

In the liner notes to this superb -- yet, once again, slightly flawed -- collection, scribe Bill Flanagan narrates a revealing anecdote. In a casual conversation about Olympic medals, Duritz allowed that he'd never be satisfied with a bronze medal -- he'd want the gold. After someone pointed out he was really shooting for platinum anyway, he clarified that it wasn't about record sales. It was about "making something great."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Evidence abounds here that Duritz and the Crows have made something great together, many times over. Sometimes the evidence is in the organic yet elegant way an entire song fits together, like the furious lament "Angels Of The Silences," the slickly ironic "American Girls" or the raucous slackers' anthem "Hanginaround." And sometimes the evidence is in the details. The eerie arrangement and somber cadence of "Round Here." The luminous tone of the piano in "A Long December" as Duritz sings about "the way that light attaches to a girl." The bounding bass line that anchors the band's buoyant cover of Joni Mitchell's classic "Big Yellow Taxi."

Or lyrics like this one, from "Anna Begins": "She's talking in her sleep / It's keeping me awake / and Anna begins to toss and turn / And every word is nonsense but I understand." Sleeplessness, the emotional gulf between men and women, and the intuitive recognition that a relationship has begun to unravel -- all in a brief little quatrain from an unjustifiably obscure "pop" song. (One other lyric note -- this collection's title is taken from one of Duritz' best lines, from the opening verse of "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," a seven-minute ode to a movie-screen crush: "If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts." Simply brilliant.)

As always in a "best of" situation, however, the more-than-casual fan is left second-guessing some of the track selections. From Hard Candy, why include the languid ballad "Holiday In Spain," one of that album's lesser achievements, over the sparkling, propulsive title track? A head-shaker, that one, though still not as puzzling as this: how do you justify including two new tracks (both solid, neither a standout) while omitting what is arguably the Crows' finest moment as a band, the ringing, gut-wrenching conclusion to their debut album, "A Murder Of One"?

The thing is, these flaws are part of what makes Counting Crows such a special group. They remind us that neither greatness nor beauty is the same thing as perfection. By my measurement, this album contains some of the best and most important songs of the last decade of popular music. Compared to its competition, it rates an "A+" cubed. But this band isn't competing with anyone but themselves, and if they're not satisfied yet -- if they are still driven to "create something great" -- why on earth would I want to contradict them?

Rating: A-

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© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen Records, and is used for informational purposes only.