Tuesday, 25 August 2015

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.2 - "Round Here" (Counting Crows)

Or, as they will forever be whenever my father spots me loading one of their albums into the CD player, "Whingeing Crows."

You can see his point. The band's debut album August and Everything After is so wet with self-absorbed tears of bitter loneliness the disc could double as a rice paddy. Every song on there is in the first-person, and every one is lament to lost love, dying love, love cut short, or love misapplied, save for the two about insomnia and, weirdly, Omaha. Even the track about the desire for fame basically comes down to singer and primary songwriter Adam Duritz wanting to become an MTV staple because it will increase the chance pretty girls in bars will fuck him.

But, like "Mellon Collie...", the album I started this series with a cut from, there are times - teenage times especially - when this level of defiant refusal to consider anything beyond the four walls of your skull is a necessary response to the crowded world pushing its way into your head. The cure in bulk can be more dangerous than the disease, of course. There are perhaps few more embarrassing sights than seeing someone obsess over an album because it shows them that they are unique, just like the person who wrote it. Taken with a pinch of salt, though, and as part of a balanced musical diet, such self-indulgence is no vice.

Particularly when the music tastes as good as this track. The opening song on "August...", this was the first Counting Crows song I ever heard, and it's still their best. Almost ridiculously sparse, less driven by its three note riff than dragged stumbling forwards by it, there's an astonishing economy here that's gloriously at odds with Duritz's anguished vocals and dense lyrics - at least until the balls-out bridge. Duritz is walking a thin line here, constantly threatening to fall into pretentiousness on one side and nonsense on the other, just like "he's walking on a wire in a circus". High-wire acts show up a lot in his lyrics, as do rain and angels, all of which feature here. We're always looking up at things, in wonder and dread, waiting for them to fall. But we're falling too, or at least Duritz is; he's "under the gun" (something else to gaze up at in fear) but somehow he's falling further still. Everything here is falling or suspended, like rain becoming fog; everything not already in downward motion will come to it eventually. The only things rising here are ghosts.

Which is curiously appropriate for this song. It's not even a Counting Crows song in some sense, it having been written by Adam and his fellow members of his previous band, the Himalayas. That's a band which I know almost nothing about other than they created this thing, this beautiful, sparse, melancholy thing, that lives on long after the band's death. And like any ghost, it is incapable of change, no matter how hard change is attempted. The Crows are notorious for the degree to which they fiddle with their back catalogue on tour - this makes them a rather risky proposition live, unfortunately - and "Round Here" has gone through more variations than any other. Even by the time the band released their third disc, actually a double live album - the song had mutated enormously, first into an even more stripped down version, then into an eight minute stadium monster filled with guitars that don't so much duel as collapse sobbing into a heap together.

In almost all of its endless iterations the song remains capable of doing its job. But that first-pressed version, placed at the front of their first disc like an endurance test for those looking for the comparative endorphin-rush of first single"Mr Jones", is what the song will always be. A beginning and an epitaph, a ghost of a confluence. No matter how many versions of that ghost story Duritz went on and goes on to tell, the truth remains here unchanging. Round here we stay up very very late. And we stay forever.

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