I was talking to a guest of the podcast a few episodes ago and I described how my “alternative” junior high school had been just full of alternative rock, pardon the pun, even though I was firmly into “oldies.” I mentioned the grunge usual suspects, which I do remember hearing for the first time at that usual school. But the more I thought about it, and while listening to this record, I realized that my “alternative” junior high school had really been dominated by one record during my grade 7 year, August and Everything After.
Though I cannot recall ever sitting down to listen to this album, I know all of these songs. Every single one of them. I know many of the words, I know every chorus, I know the sequence. And I had no idea I knew this record this well, I thought I just knew the singles from radio play. But no, this record must have been on all the time. (One reason I suspect this is because I have a memory of our yearbook for 1993-94 containing quotes from “Round Here” among other songs from this album.)
And this knowledge of this record, this memory of this record, is keeping me from having my usual reaction to post grunge. Not that this record is post grunge in sound – it sure isn’t – but that it is of the same type of record that became popular as part of the wave of post grunge: polished music with angsty lyrics that some record executive figured he could sell because it sounded better than alternative, but was vaguely alternative enough that it would trick any consumers that weren’t paying attention. I want to pour withering scorn on something so out of touch with the times, so clearly devoted to another era, but I can’t. I can’t because I know every song and because I think that, if I do have to listen to one of these classic rock revival bands posing as an alternative rock band, I could do worse than this record.
Duritz’s songs are catchy of course. They are very catchy. In fact, it’s kind of a wonder it took them as long as they did to get discovered. Perhaps it’s his hair, but I’m amazed some roots music person, like their producer, didn’t market these guys to the roots music market first. (Maybe they’re too young. They definitely didn’t look the part. But this band feels a few years ahead of adult contemporary’s obsession with vague rootsiness. Perhaps they helped cause it.)
And Duritz’s lyrics are highly literate. They are so literate, even if they’re not my favourite. Whatever you might think of Counting Crows, I don’t think you can criticize their lyrics. Duritz is a great lyricist, even if he isn’t the most unique or original.
But my problem, to the extent that I have one, is the arrangements. To me, they’re straight out of the Mellow Mafia era of California rock. Yes, they sound better because of 20 years of improvements in recording technology, and there’s an arguably more authentic “roots” vibe to this record than to most of those records. And, yes, there’s the slight veneer of “alternative” with Duritz’s voice – which never would have succeeded in the 1970s and likely what kept them getting turned into a folk or country band instead – and odd instrumental flourish that sounds more alt country than country rock. But this record is all about the sound of Laurel Canyon, to my ears. But it was released in 1993.