So, it's been three years since the last Counting Crows release, 1999's This Desert Life. A long wait, when they're your favourite band. Finally, the day comes, and I have their new album in my hands. Pop it into the cd player, and start to listen. And as the songs roll on, a strange sensation comes over me. And I start to wonder - is this really Counting Crows?!

Well, first impressions can be deceiving, and I've started to realise that the band I know and love are there, strong and clear in Hard Candy. It's just that for the first time, I've had to really listen, and give this album time, to hear them shining through. For the first time, a Counting Crows release has needed a few listens before I can really begin to appreciate how good it is. You know these albums - first listen through, you wonder whether you'll ever bother with the second run through. You give it that chance though, and it begins to grow on you. Eventually, it's the cd that never quite manages to make it out of the car cd player - except for when you have a sudden urge to listen to it at home, and have to run outside to grab it.

Now this may be leaving you feeling that in the past, different Counting Crows albums have all sounded the same. That's not it though, each release has been fresh, and shown a different facet to this band. It just seems that this time around, there's a whole new cut to this gem. The core's still there, the light still shines from the same old place. But the patterns shining on the wall, they're something I've never seen before.

Reading the liner notes though, I'm glad to see one thing hasn't changed, and I seriously doubt ever will. Hard Candy was recorded in 'yet another house on yet another hill in Hollywood, CA.'

Hard Candy's album art, is of the top of an old fashioned candy tin, complete with the promise of '13 Fresh New Flavours'. Well, that's certainly true on this occasion. This album does sound fresh, and new. The one thing that hasn't changed though, is the quality of Adam Duritz's song writing. I guess that's the one constant when comparing Hard Candy to previous Counting Crows albums - his signature is there, obvious when you sit, and listen to these new lyrics. Themes of love and loss, loneliness, insomnia, words that reach into you and touch such familiar places. Words that one minute leave you with your eyes closed, wondering how a stranger has managed to say everything that's been swirling in your mind, lacking any description - then in the next, sending shivers right through you. Adam Duritz has said in the past that he's uncomfortable being described as a poet - that what he's doing is writing songs, far different to what the poet creates. Maybe there needs to be a new category, because at times, his words transcend simple song writing.

One of the things that has struck me about this album most, is the total feeling of life it seems to be able to generate. Counting Crows have a reputation for producing somewhat depressing albums, although that's a view I've never been able to agree with. No, it's not likely you'll pop in a Counting Crows cd to really get the party going. It's never been background music. This time around though, there are songs that just seem exultant. Songs you could imagine blasting over a crowd of people, without depressing everyone in the room. That's not to say that their music has become any less meaningful - it's still that. But hey, who ever said a song couldn't make you think if it sounds happy?

And it seems that people have sat up and taken notice of the change that's come over Counting Crows. I've never seen as much hype over a recent Counting Crows album, as I have this time around. For once, it's more than the existing fans who have been anticipating this album. From ads for Diet Coke, to magazine spreads with Adam Duritz, the band's presence seems to have grown. Tickets for a recent Counting Crows show in New York were going for up to $500 on eBay. And shows are selling out in a matter of minutes.

For years, fans have wondered whether Counting Crows would ever return to the status they did after the release of August and Everything After, with its huge singles such as Round Here and Mr. Jones. I doubt they'll ever rise that high again - it was a phenomenal climb to fame. Things are turning around though. Counting Crows might just have something big on their hands.

Counting Crows - Hard Candy   Released 9th July 2002

1 - Hard Candy
2 - American Girls
3 - Good Time
4 - If I Could Give All My Love To You -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead
5 - Goodnight L.A.
6 - Butterfly In Reverse
7 - Miami
8 - New Frontier
9 - Carriage
10 - Black and Blue
11 - Why Should You Come When I Call?
12 - Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)
13 - Holiday In Spain

Depending on the area the album is released, there are also bonus tracks on the album. The USA misses out on extra songs - apart from the hidden track. They do however get an enhanced version, with the ability to access a hidden web site, and read Adam Duritz's thoughts on the new songs, and the meanings behind them. The bonus tracks in the other areas are:

International Version

14 - 4 White Stallions

UK Version
14 - 4 White Stallions
15 - You Ain't Going Nowhere

Japanese Version

14 - 4 White Stallions
15 - You Ain't Going Nowhere
16 - Start Again

All versions have a hidden track, a cover of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi.