THE BLACK CROWES: THE SOUTHERN HARMONY AND MUSICAL COMPANION (1992)
1) Sting Me; 2) Remedy; 3) Thorn In My Pride; 4) Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye; 5) Sometimes Salvation; 6) Hotel Illness; 7) Black Moon Creeping; 8) No Speak No Slave; 9) My Morning Song; 10) Time Will Tell.
It is hard to argue with an album that shot four singles into the #1 «mainstream rock» chart position, and made it all the way to the top of the charts in 1992 despite neither being a hair metal album, nor a grunge album, nor a Whitney Houston album. It must be a masterpiece, right? One of those traditional rock'n'roll records that's really got it made, breathing new life into the old form and proving that rock'n'roll always smells, but never dies?
All right then, let's start from the beginning. ʽSting Meʼ opens the show with a nasty distorted riff, soon joined by keyboards, lead guitar (from new member Marc Ford), and a supporting female choir for extra gospel power. It's crunchy, powerful rock'n'roll, right? Well, I don't know, but no matter how many times I try to get my heart a-goin' to this song, I feel like there is some key element that is totally missing. It's odd, really — there's a riff, the lead vocalist is singing his heart out, the lead guitarist is blueswailing like crazy, the guitar tones are excellent, and yet the song still drifts by without touching a single nerve. How could that be?
Let's move on to ʽRemedyʼ. This little monster was an even huger hit, and it rocks with the same energy and conviction as ʽSting Meʼ, but throws in a funkier groove, so all the cool black people can join in the fun. But no dice — all I feel is that it is every bit as musically impotent as its predecessor. It's got all the formal qualifications, but it doesn't come alive. What the heck?..
My best guess is that over those two years, the Robinson brothers have evolved as arrangers and maybe even as performers, but they're still fucking shitty songwriters as far as I can see. That riff which opens ʽSting Meʼ — it seems technically all right, but it doesn't communicate any particular feeling. I mean, compare it with, say, Keith Richards' riff that opens ʽCan't You Hear Me Knockin'ʼ: that one immediately gave an idea of «don't you mess with me» — free as a bird, dirty, and dangerous. The riff of ʽSting Meʼ, in the meantime, does not suggest anything except «hey, we've actually managed to come up with a riff that nobody did before» (and for a good reason). Besides, once the vocals kick in, it sinks into the background, and the average listener probably ceases paying attention to the musical elements of the song at that point.
Basically, this is the kind of gut reaction I get from every song on here. The rockers all sound technically great, with expert guitar playing and tasteful production. The ballads are all formally soulful, loud, screechy, but never submitting to the disgraceful «power ballad» format (power chords, strings, pompous attitude, all that shit). It should all be good, but there isn't a single «really good» song on here. I have no problems with using it as a background accompaniment, but all the songs ultimately just stick in one big greasy ball of loud distorted guitars and a guy who wails and yells his way through the songs like he's really got something to say, but he just ain't gonna get my attention that way.
A couple of times they come close: if pressed hard to choose one favorite tune, I'd probably go with ʽBlack Moon Creepingʼ, if only because the main distorted metal riff, the accompanying talkbox lead part, and the swampy harmonica generate a unique-sounding trio. But if the goal here was to conjure some sort of voodooistic atmosphere, what with much of the lyrics referring to black magic and stuff, it is as much of a failure as everything else. Maybe it's just the singer's fault: Chris Robinson always tends to sound like a really irritating next door neighbor, his basic emotional range limited to one (1) effect — annoy the living daylights out of you (ʽSometimes Salvationʼ is the worst culprit, a tremendously draggy ballad if there ever was one).
Although this album is usually regarded by fans as one of the highest points of the Crowes' career, I cannot and will not share the respect — I give it a thumbs down and state that, in my humble opinion, this is one of the phoniest, draggiest, most boring «rock and roll» albums I have ever heard in my life from a critically acclaimed «not-too-mainstream» artist (by which I just mean that the Black Crowes, like them or not, belong in an entirely different category from the likes of Bon Jovi). And the best song on the album is the closing anthem ʽTime Will Tellʼ, because it was written by Bob Marley, who, unlike the Robinson brothers, actually knew how to stuff his soul into formally captivating pieces. The rest of these tunes I really don't care if I never get to hear again. Some guy with a similar mindset to mine called them «truck driver material», but I think that by generalizing, he really offended the truck driver elite — the really cool guys that prefer to blast ʽHighway To Hellʼ, which is a better song than all of this drivel put together.