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Friday, November 7, 2014

The Black Crowes: Croweology


1) Jealous Again; 2) Share The Ride; 3) Remedy; 4) Non-Fiction; 5) Hotel Illness; 6) Soul Singing; 7) Ballad In Urgency; 8) Wiser Time; 9) Cold Boy Smile; 10) Under A Mountain; 11) She Talks To Angels; 12) Morning Song; 13) Downtown Money Waster; 14) Good Friday; 15) Thorn In My Pride; 16) Welcome To The Good Times; 17) Girl From A Pawnshop; 18) Sister Luck; 19) She; 20) Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.

With an album title like that, I should have known better — but noooo, I just had to sit down and subject myself to it, out of professional-amateurish courtesy. Twice. Those four hours of my life I am never getting back, and since it is not highly likely that any of the Robinson brothers are offering me an apology any time soon (well, it's not like I bought the record or anything), please excuse me if the following several paragraphs sound rather bitter.

First, the objective facts. Croweology is the name of an album by The Black Crowes, spread over two CDs and, with the exception of one cover (ʽSheʼ from Gram Parsons' G. P.), featuring re-recordings of their older songs, mainly in «unplugged» acoustic versions, although some electric lead parts are occasionally present. All the tracks seem to have been produced «live in the studio», with a bit of audience participation at times (at least, there are a couple of small bursts of scat­tered applause on the first disc), but formally, the album is not «live» as such. And the track list concen­trates most heavily on the 1990-96 period, with only 2-3 tracks from later times and nothing at all from the Warpaint/Before The Frost era.

This segregation and reinvention brings a certain conceptual purpose to Croweology — seeing as how the band is now «mature» and «wisened up» and has been goin' up the country for several years with the speed of a groundhog fleeing from a tractor, it is only logical that they would de­cide to bring their old material «up to date». How do you make your peace with the world of corn fields and grass meadows and go on being ʽJealous Againʼ and needing your ʽRemedyʼ at the same time? You just dump the distortion and the loud bashing drums and you start looking for a way that would preserve the spirit and the energy of the original but would also introduce more subtlety and nuance into the performance. You begin rocking out in humble style. I mean, if Keith Richards in his prime could rock out with acoustic riffs, why not The Black Crowes in their mature, respectable years?

As clearly as (I think) I understand the purpose, its realisation predictably leaves a lot to be desired. Most of these songs weren't that good in the first place, and most of the changes intro­duced to convert them to this acoustic setting are in no hurry to make them any better. In brief, if you are already a fan, there is some chance that you will enjoy these reinventions, but if you «tolerated» rather than «enjoyed» the originals, you are most likely going to hate, hate, hate the way they handled them here. And that is concerning the rockers — when they start doing ballads, and they insist on dragging them out to seven, eight, nine-minute length, you'll be climbing up the frickin' walls, begging for mercy.

Yes, if you waste enough time on this, eventually you will begin noticing the little things they do here and there (like, for instance, making ʽGood Fridayʼ sound totally like Pink Floyd's ʽBreatheʼ in the intro part), and maybe even getting impressed by then. But why should you? Why should anybody? There is so much implicit pathetic self-aggrandizing on Croweology that it actually makes me sick. For some reason, it's as if these guys have ceremonially anointed themselves «the keepers of the flame», and each and every one of these tracks is even more self-consciously per­formed in the «All Hail The Grand Old Southern Rock Tradition Whose High Priests Are We» than their original versions. Not a shred of the slightly naughty, slightly ironic irreverence here that used to characterize even Lynyrd Skynyrd at their peak, let alone any of the better roots-rock bands out there. Not the tiniest modicum of a sense of humor.

If, for some reason, this happens to be the last of the band's studio LPs — a possibility, since they have not gone back into the studio in between 2010 and 2013, and have once again gone on hiatus since that period — fans will probably be pleased to treasure it as a nostalgic recapitulation or a musical testament. But to these skeptical ears, it is just one more unpleasant reminder of why The Black Crowes, at their very best, were only a «passable» band, and at their very worst, were so dreadfully boring and annoying that I'd rather listen to MTV-era Aerosmith instead: I mean, power ballads like ʽCryin'ʼ and ʽCrazyʼ are compositionally no worse than ʽShe Talks To Angelsʼ or ʽBad Luck Blue Eyesʼ, and their humble goal of describing Steve Tyler's unsatiable sex drive for hot young chicks, including his own daughter, is quite forgivable next to the unjustifiedly bloated spiritual ambitions of the Crowes. Maybe they just had the misfortune of being born into this world ten or fifteen years later than they should have, missing the right wave. Maybe. But that doesn't mean we have to go on listening to them out of chronological mercy, or that I would have to shift my thumbs down rating for this album to anything better just because this is the sound of a veteran professional band using — think of that! — acoustic guitars all the way.


  1. "But why should you? Why should anybody?"

    Perfectly said.

  2. I love this album. But, I loved the songs before they recorded them on this album. I guess the flavor of the month suits some, but these guys recorded for over 20 years for a reason. That reason is they were an awesome band