Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Album Review: Sheryl Crow - Detours (4/5)

Sheryl has a lot to crow about on her sixth album, Detours. Seriously though, the last 2 years saw her battle breast cancer, end her long-term relationship with Lance Armstrong and adopt her son Wyatt. That alone would be enough material for one or several albums. Sheryl draws on these life-changing events to give Detours a particularly personal depth, but she turns to the outside world too to give it political depth as well, touching on the war, the environment and our thirst for oil.

Detours also finds her working with Bill Bottrell, the producer from her breakthrough first album, Tuesday Night Music Club. As such, the album's folksy roots harken back to that disc, which gave her a major hit in "All I Wanna Do," but doesn't forget the often darker territory she's covered since then, such as on her eponymous sophomore album or The Globe Sessions. The album's first two singles, which appear as early tracks here, mark that constrast nicely. "Shine Over Babylon" is moody, slow guitar rock, while "Love Is Free" is upbeat and folksy in that cheeky way that Tuesday Night Music Club was.

Both of those tracks follow "God Bless This Mess," a stripped down opener that reminds us that while Detours has its dark and upbeat moments, it's also a political album. That sentiment is best expressed on "Gasoline," a parable of the oil crisis and global warming set in the future looking back at the year 2017 when "London suffered sweltering heat" and "oil was way past its peak."

Other highlights include the mid-tempo "Now that You're Gone," which is melodic and soulful and has a nice interplay between acoustic guitar and strings. It would make a good next single, which she's having trouble with (neither two released so far have become hits). I also like the folksy sing-along "Out of Our Heads," top 40-ish "Love Is All There Is" and "Diamond Ring," the album's most bluesy number, where Sheryl sings of a broken engagement over a countrified arrangement. Wonder who that could be about? "Motivation" is another fun upbeat number that could have felt at home on her debut.

The albums falters when it gets too precious, such as on the mellow title track where Sheryl sings "mother teach me to love with a paper thin heart" or on the lullaby to her son aptly titled "Lullaby for Wyatt" where she sings "the world could fall apart, but you're my heart." It's supposed to bookend the angst of "God Bless This Mess" by closing on a note of hope for the future, which feels forced.

"Make It Go Away (Radiation Song)" is interesting, for it presents a different musical response to her cancer ordeal than some of her peers. While Kylie Minogue and Delta Goodrem acknowledged their cancer battles with stories of having conquered and moved on--Kylie's "No More Rain" and Delta's "Out of the Blue," Sheryl dives back into the painful experience of her treatment, exploring the fear of her condition and her wish to "make it go away." It's not as uplifting as, say "Coming Out of the Dark," but it's probably more truthful.

Detours is a potent combination of personal and political influences, reminding us of Crow's early musical successes, but showing the songwriting growth of her years since. The album unfolds like a journey, and fittingly from its title, reminds us that in life it's not the course we set out but the inevitable Detours that present us with life's most important and enriching challenges.

Best: Shine Over Babylon, Now That You're Gone, Diamond Ring, Love Is Free, Gasoline, Love Is All There Is, Gasoline, Out of Our Heads

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