Hard Candy (Geffen)

Counting Crows 

Hard Candy (Geffen)

It seems as if just about everyone owned a copy of Counting Crows 1993 debut, August and Everything After, a melodic and mournful work that sold seven million copies. The inevitable backlash caused most listeners to move on, but the group never wavered from its sound or style, issuing two stellar followups that solidified a devoted fanbase and kept the naysayers at bay. The Crows' fourth studio work won't do much to change that equation. Hard Candy opens with the powerful title track, a breezy, upbeat number that hits all the right notes, followed by the equally sunny single "American Girls." But the Crows really shine on the ballads, and there are plenty to be found. Standouts include the spartan piano of "Holiday in Spain," the throbbing melancholy of "Good Time" and the simply gorgeous "Up All Night." As a musical unit, the Crows remain a solid if unimaginative band, providing an inoffensive setting for the real show, Adam Duritz. The group's vocalist and primary songwriter is ground zero for all things Crow, and the success or failure of the band hinges on his ability to engage listeners. Those who can get past his ornate lyrics are treated to one of today's purest voices -- few singers have his stunning range and nuanced delivery. Candy won't reignite the passion of those who split after "Mr. Jones" got stale, but die-hards will applaud the Crows' fourth consecutive home run.

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