You can't beat Crow Music: Even in her darkest songs, Sheryl Crow may be down, but she's never out.

September 22, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Because many of the artists in the original singer/songwriter boom had folk-rock roots, a lot of listeners have come to assume that musical introspection is best achieved with an acoustic guitar. That was the case in the early '70s, when Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell were at the top of the charts, and it appears to have carried over into the Lilith Fair era, thanks to the likes of Lisa Loeb, Jewel and the Indigo Girls.

Still, self-revelation doesn't have to be an unplugged event. There's no reason a singer's song of herself can't be cranked to 11 and set to a slamming backbeat. It is possible to be emotionally naked and rock out.

Just ask Sheryl Crow.

Even though she bares her soul throughout the dozen songs on "The Globe Sessions" (A&M 31454 09592, arriving in stores today), Crow has hardly gone the whiny-acoustic route.

Quite the opposite. From the gritty, sax-greased boogie of "There Goes the Neighborhood" to the screaming guitar solo that caps "It Don't Hurt," Crow rocks hard and true, playing off a slew of Stones licks as she dissects her romances-gone-wrong. Heartbreak has seldom seemed so rowdily enjoyable.

Produced by Crow and recorded largely at her own Globe Studios in New York City, the album is personal in the classic singer/songwriter sense. Instead of the story-telling tack taken on her last two albums, "The Globe Sessions" finds her in a more confessional mode, offering first-person narratives wracked with doubt and depression.

These aren't just songs about love gone wrong; they're studies in how bad relationships can eat away at a person's sense of worth and well-being. But even as Crow complains to her lover, "You don't bring me anything but down," it's hard to consider the album itself a downer. Because no matter how low the lyrics may slip, there's enough muscle in the music to keep "The Globe Sessions" from ever sounding like a cry of despair.

"Am I Getting Through (Part I & II)" is a case in point. Built around a protagonist who insists that she's "a loser at love," the song is all sadness and self-pity at first, with Crow mewling lines like "I am sweet/I am ugly/I am mean if you love me" as Middle Eastern-style strings snake across a thumping, Led Zeppelin drum beat.

But before she completely melts into a puddle of self-loathing, the music shifts gears. Distorted guitars and a driving, punk-rock beat replace the spooky Zeppelinisms, and Crow's resignation turns to rage. Where the first part of the song found her wilting under the pressure of trying to be an ideal lover, this second part finds her glorying in the thought that, someday, "the love we made will seem one hundred light years away."

In other words, there may be times when Crow is down, but

don't ever count her out.

Such shows of strength can be found throughout the album, but Crow seldom presents them as flat-out triumphs. Instead, these songs tend more toward transcendence, to getting through bad times and over bad lovers.

So even though the desolate ballad "Crash and Burn" seems to be about anger deferred -- rather than confront her lover, Crow's character runs away, her head full of unwritten letters and unmade arguments -- it's actually about how she slowly works through her pain. Crow recognizes that the real goal is not to fight, but to heal; as the song's last verse puts it, "My heart may break again before it learns 'Cause I've gotten used to crash and burn."

Because Crow acknowledges the pain while refusing to be consumed by it, there's something uplifting about even the album's darkest songs. "It Don't Hurt" is particularly inspiring, in part because of the black humor Crow brings to her getting-over-him lyric: In perfect deadpan, what she starts off describing as a house-cleaning ends up with a bulldozer leveling the place.

But Crow's music also helps, at first underscoring her protagonist's perverse wit with a dark, modal acoustic guitar (think Led Zeppelin's "Going to California"), then escalating to wicked glee with a long, screaming guitar solo (think Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way"). No matter how much hurt there might be on the lyric sheet, there's too much joy in the playing to think Crow is still suffering over lost love.

Ultimately, it's that sense of fun that makes "The Globe %o Sessions" worth replaying. Whether she's being big-hearted enough to refer to an old lover as "My Favorite Mistake" or merely taking a sardonic look at the Clinton sex scandal on "Subway Ride" (an uncredited bonus track), Crow shows there's more to the singer/songwriter biz than suffering and self-reflection.

Crow seems to think that there's also the possibility of a good time -- and that, more than anything, explains why she takes such a rock-and-roll view of things.

Sheryl Crow

"The Globe Sessions" (A&M 31454 09592)

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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