Counting Crows’ Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is just your average brilliant, unsparing rock & roll song cycle about the high life and the low life, about sin and whatever the hell follows. This is a dark ride — Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is less Animal House and more Requiem For A Dream. So if Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is the last album that Counting Crows — or for that matter anybody else — ever releases, at least the band will be going out with one hell of a big bang. This is an album with two distinct yet deeply related halves that will not only remind longtime admirers of what makes Counting Crows a great band in the first place – it reminded the band as well.
“In my mind, we’re an album band — that’s what we do,” Adam Duritz says of the band that also includes David Bryson, Charles Gillingham, Dan Vickery, David Immergluck and Jim Bogios. “We make good albums. I don’t know that we’re a great “singles” band. We’ve had some good singles, but it’s really accidental when it happens. Now with the whole world going byte-sized, we felt, and still feel, like it’s more important than ever NOT to cooperate with all of that. So if the album IS disappearing as an art form, we wanted to make one last great album. We had a chance to make a point now and make a real album, an album that really means something to us, and this is as real an album as any we’ve made.”
Saturday Nights– the album’s angry, electric, dissolute opening salvo — was produced by Gil Norton (The Pixies, Foo Fighters), a longtime friend and associate of the band who previously produced the band’s second album Recovering The Satellites. “Ever since Satellites, I’ve always turned to Gil for advice, and he was the only guy I ever wanted to produce Saturday Nights,” says Duritz. The more acoustic and folk-influenced Sunday Mornings was produced by Brian Deck whose past credits include Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine. According to Duritz: “This is not unplugged Counting Crows. The great folk based albums of the Sixties and late Seventies like Carole King’s Tapestry or Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water were not unplugged albums — they were really innovatively recorded and creatively arranged albums with a lot of electric instruments. I wanted to find a guy who could make an eclectic modern version of an album like that, and Brian really came through.”
The combination of these two sides of the same coin adds up to make a deeply personal musical statement. For Duritz, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is “about dissolution and disintegration. It’s about when Saturday night happens and you lose all sense of yourself. You dissolve into drink and medications and moral lack of self, and finally into a loss of faith and then madness. And it’s about when you wake up Sunday morning and look back at the wreck you’ve made of your life and you think, “How can I possibly fix this? How can I ever climb out of this hole” And then you start to try and climb.” But Sunday Mornings isn’t about getting back to the top; it’s about struggling to even learn how to climb. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings isn’t an album about sin and redemption; it’s more the binge and the hangover.
In a sense, that same journey was mirrored by the thrilling but sometimes maddening process of making Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. “When we started to make this record, I began right away beating on the guys hard, and then they started beating on themselves,” Duritz confesses. “I had long talks with the band about all their gifts AND their limitations, because I thought this was our last record. I thought `I’m doing it and then I’m getting out.’ And the first songs we had, like `1492’ and `Los Angeles’, were just statements of decay and disintegration because the album we thought we were making then was just Saturday Nights. I didn’t even really conceive of Sunday Mornings ’til much later. At the time, I just knew I was tired of being in the band and I felt like that was dragging us into mediocrity. But then we spent twenty days with Gil in New York City in June of 2006 and we came out with music that felt real and raw. We went back on the tour that summer and we felt revitalized.
At the beginning of 2007, we went back in the studio with Gil for another 3 or four weeks and finished Saturday Nights. We beat on each other over and over until we got better. I just said, “We can be great or we can just not be a band, and I know we can be great, so let’s do it.” We took a few weeks off and then went out to Berkeley with Brian and recorded Sunday Mornings in about 25 days. And that might have been even harder than Saturday Nights because we had NO idea even how to make that kind of music. We sort of had to teach ourselves on the fly how to compose and play this whole…I don’t know…reinvention of our acoustic music, but it was worth it.”
For all that, Duritz says the process has only increased his tremendous respect for his bandmates. “People don’t give the band enough credit for how amazing they are. How many times have you seen some young singer-songwriter guy playing in a club by himself and he’s amazing? And then the album comes out and it’s absolutely bland and flat. That’s because his band didn’t get him. My band has always gotten me right from the very beginning. The songs I write only come across because the band is so good at listening to me and to each other that they’re almost telepathically dynamic. They’re sensitive to every nuance of my singing, which means I can go anywhere I want to go. People think music is all about playing but it’s really ALL about listening. Those guys…they’re just great musicians.”
In many ways, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings represents the latest and arguably greatest chapter in a story that began with Counting Crows’ highly auspicious 1993 debut August And Everything After and continued with the group’s excellent subsequent studio albums 1996’s Recovering the Satellites, 1999’s This Desert Life and 2002’s Hard Candy.
I first met Adam Duritz in a Paris hotel lobby only moments before Adam received a call from America that Kurt Cobain had killed himself. I was struck then as now with how much Adam took on his shoulders and his deeply ambivalent but complex relationship with the notoriety music would bring him. Less than the desire to be a star, Duritz has always had a heightened desire to be understood.
“Even before I had one moment of experience with fame, I ended every chorus of `Mr. Jones’ with `when everybody loves me, I’ll never be lonely.’ And you’re supposed to get that’s not true, okay? The guy is making a mistake if he thinks it’s going to work that way. And I knew THAT before I’d ever even put a record out. I wanted to be a rock star, but the assumption that it will fix all the problems you have is just silly. And that misconception, ironically, has lasted for fifteen years now. I’m still catching shit from people who think all my problems should be…well…solved – perfectly intelligent people who still don’t get that being famous or getting a girl doesn’t actually solve all your problems. Often the most complex response I get is, ‘Well, you asked for it.’ I guess I did but…haha…well… I guess I did. ”
Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is a remarkable album about the lives that Duritz has led — at least in his head — as brought to life by the only band that could make it all sound this real and this raw.