Single Review: Counting Crows, “1492”/”When I Dream of Michelangelo”

1492 / When I Dream Of Michelangelo[From Room Thirteen, January 30, 2008]

At some point between the melancholy perfection of 1993’s August and Everything After and the raucous, drunken Americana sing-along’s of 2002’s Hard Candy, Counting Crows became keenly aware of the symmetrical split of their style, with albums sometimes suffering for the worse by constantly switching gears between the low-key piano ballads and the uptempo guitar rockers. This schism was recognised almost at the onset with 1998’s live Across a Wire set, but with the upcoming Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings double album they’re finally committing the idea to proper, studio form.

From this batch of diametric numbers comes the twin lead tracks, “1492” and “When I Dream of Michelangelo.” Observant fans will recognise the latter title almost immediately from Recovering the Satellites‘ “Angels of the Silences,” and those devoted fans are likely to find plenty more familiar territory where that came from. Angels and silence and Michelangelo, yes, but also streets, little girls, dreams, satellites, God, America – they’re all there, framed nicely by a simple acoustic arrangement reminiscent of many of the band’s gentler masterpieces.

Conversely, “1492” is culled from the “Saturday Nights” half of the record and comes out swinging with possibly the band’s most driving rocker to date, complete with guitarist Dan Vickery getting as close to those Joe Satriani lessons as he ever has. They’ve done uptempo before, but this Petty-esque track finds lead singer Adam Duritz at his stream-of-consciousness best, raving on about disappearing headfirst into the great unknowns while the rest of the Crows just push on and rock. It’s a slightly awkward listen, as Counting Crows’ strengths have not always lied in the execution of such tracks, but at the same time it’s comforting to see a band as talented as this fully embrace the idea that just because it’s not all good times is no reason to call off the celebration.