ALBUM THROWBACK: SHERYL CROW | SHERYL CROW (1996)
There have been several recent album anniversaries, as these classics are worth highlighting. Including records from Primal Scream, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers, it is a busy time for anniversaries! One album that turned twenty-five in 2021 is her self-titled second studio album released on September 24, 1996, by A&M Records. Unlike its predecessor, "Tuesday Night Music Club," written by a casual collective formed by Crow and several other musicians, "Sheryl Crow" was entirely produced by Crow, who wrote most of the songs alone or with only one collaborator. Most of the album was recorded at Kingsway Studios in New Orleans, Louisiana. The album is more rounded and varied than her debut. Noticeably more confident as a singer and songwriter on "Sheryl Crow," one can hear the differences. "Sheryl Crow" was a commercial success, being certified 3× platinum by the RIAA and 3× platinum by the BPI. It's one of these albums where the deeper cuts are as rich and rewarding as the singles. For anyone growing up in the 1990s, we would have heard singles from "Sheryl Crow" on the radio in 1996/1997. "If It Makes You Happy," "Everyday Is a Winding Road," and "A Change Would Do You Good" are all-time classics tracks.
Released in 1996, "Sheryl Crow" sounded right at home next to other post-grunge, postmodern albums like Beck’s "Odelay" and Ani DiFranco’s "Dilate." The mid-‘90s was a sort of wasteland for alternative pop of this kind—the standard was to mix ordinary pop songwriting with samples, hip-hop beats, and electronic effects—which produced a seemingly endless list of one-hit wonders not unlike the similar synth-driven boom of the ‘80s. But on her sophomore effort, Crow, like Beck, found that rare balance between retro, organic rock, and slick, glam-pop. However, there’s no doubt that Crow’s voice sounds more assured when she’s sober. The singer took full reign of the album’s production duties, partially responding to suggestions that she was a puppet to her all-male "Tuesday Night Music Club." As such, there’s a palpable, fear-driven ambition to the album. Her drive paid off, and not only did Crow avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, but "Sheryl Crow" is easily her best album.
The album’s lead single, the crunchy rocker “If It Makes You Happy,” was both a retort to the criticism Crow received as well as an exhausted reflection on two years of fame and touring, which included a stint at Woodstock ‘94, referenced explicitly on the track. While the song’s structure is relatively straightforward, other tracks on the album are filled with quirky, stream-of-conscious lyrics (pop-culture references abound: to Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Ouija boards, etc.) and a collage of drum loops, organs, and layered voices. Songs like “Ordinary Morning,” with its lazy piano figures and raw blues vibe, are cushioned comfortably next to loopy tracks like “Maybe Angels” and understated ballads like “Home,” in which Crow recounts the emotional strains of a deteriorating marriage.
Crow’s lyrics always take a decidedly moralistic stance but never sound preachy. “Hard to Make a Stand” touches on pro-life terrorism, while “Love Is a Good Thing” sees the solution to the world’s problems in the same four-letter word, so many other rockers have enthusiastically endorsed over the years.
This is certainly not the same hippie mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and one can’t help but think that Crow is a tad less confident with her miracle product than, say, Lennon ever was. “These are the days when anything goes,” she sings on the buoyant “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” and the sentiment speaks for both the song’s playful optimism and the album’s sonic adventurousness. Both" Tuesday Night Music Club" and 1998’s "The Globe Sessions" are solid pop-rock efforts, but neither is as consistent, immaculately produced, or distinctly modern as "Sheryl Crow."