Nothing puts life in perspective like a brush with death, and that truism is brought into blazing relief on Sheryl Crow's sixth album, Detours. Crow survived a battle with breast cancer in February 2006. Around that same time, she separated from fiancÚ Lance Armstrong and, roughly a year later, she adopted a son. That's a decade's worth of life packed into two years, but these highs and lows -- or Detours as she calls them -- have led Crow to produce her liveliest, weirdest album since 1996's messy masterpiece Sheryl Crow. ...
Nothing puts life in perspective like a brush with death, and that truism is brought into blazing relief on Sheryl Crow's sixth album, Detours. Crow survived a battle with breast cancer in February 2006. Around that same time, she separated from fiancÚ Lance Armstrong and, roughly a year later, she adopted a son. That's a decade's worth of life packed into two years, but these highs and lows -- or Detours as she calls them -- have led Crow to produce her liveliest, weirdest album since 1996's messy masterpiece Sheryl Crow. On that record, Crow shook up her success by undercutting the retro-rock of Tuesday Night Music Club with loping looped beats and a skewed lyricism that kept even bright tunes like "A Change Will Do You Good" slightly off-kilter, but ever since that album her records grew increasingly mannered, as she whittled away her eccentricities. All those eccentricities return on Detours, partially due to that tidal wave of life events, but also to the revival of her relationship with producer Bill Bottrell, the man who helmed Tuesday Night Music Club. Bottrell and Crow had an acrimonious split during the making of the second album -- several of their collaborations did make that record, including "Maybe Angels" and "Hard to Make a Stand" -- and while Sheryl sustained her stardom, no producer let her be as loose or revealing as Bottrell, as he helped give her pop tunes odd, distinguishing touches and kept her ballads spare and haunting. These gifts are put into sharp relief on Detours -- perhaps a shade too sharp, actually, as the album is divided into a half of careening protest pop and a half of moody introspection, which may showcase how Bottrell captures Crow's distinct moods, but doesn't quite give this album the classicist flow of her first records. Even if the album slows down a bit too much on its second stretch -- the one containing unadorned confessionals of broken engagements ("Diamond Ring"), cancer ("Make It Go Away [Radiation Song]"), and adoption ("Lullaby for Wyatt") -- the individual moments all work according to their own merits, while that first half contains Crow's most compelling music in years. Much of this is explicitly political -- references to war, petroleum, and New Orleans all run rampant -- but compared to her sometimes didactic public speeches, her socially conscious writing is surprising, filled with odd juxtapositions and sly jokes. That sense of humor alone is a relief, but it's married to music that's restless, encompassing the worldbeat textures of "Peace Be Upon Us" (featuring Ahmed Al Himi on backing vocals), the lopsided shuffle of "Love Is Free," and the sultry '70s Stones swagger of "Gasoline." Crow hasn't been this free or fine since Sheryl Crow, but there is an emotional directness on Detours that makes this a progression, not a retreat, and with any luck, this album isn't a one-time journey down a side road but rather the touchstone for the next act in her career. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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Is this Sheryl?s most topical album yet? I think it?s gotta be. Some might say political, but I don?t think she takes it that far, at least not to the point of forcing her viewpoint on her listeners. Rather I think ?Detours? is one songstress?s suggestion on where we might all go from here after the mess we?ve lately made of our cosy, conflicted corner of the universe. It begins with a very thinly veiled lament on 9/11- in the grainy, stripped-bare and yet oddly moving ?God Bless This Mess? (9/10) - and from then on the album is one big promotion of free will, love, peace and the general need for us all to be active in making that happen, rather than just vainly wishing & hoping.
Track 2- ?Shine Over Babylon? (7/10) is the first rich-sounding, obvious single release, with a glorifying, uplifting chorus, but lyrically not as effective as the opening track. Track 3- ?Love Is Free? (7/10) introduces the country with familiar percussion & throw-away lyrics. Then comes perhaps my favourite track on the album, Track 4- ?Peace Be Upon Us? (10/10) with middle-eastern-inspired instrumentation, plus Arabian vocals by not only guest performer Ahmed Al Hirmi, but also Sheryl herself- on a song that includes the telling phrase ?the meek shall inherit the Earth?, which is indicative of ?Detours? as a whole.
My other personal stand-out tracks are ?Out of Our Heads? (8/10) ? great lyrics & cool production are let down by a bland, uninspired and slightly too preachy chorus. ?Make It Go Away? (9/10) is a melancholy, but determined mantra that balances the lighter tunes with something that has raw emotional content. And for those of you who get the bonus tracks on your record (UK album version)- ?Here Comes the Sun? (6/10) sounds like an S Club Juniors reunion at a helium plant and isn?t a patch on Nina Simone?s version (what were you thinking Sheryl? You?re better than this!). Also, ?Rise Up? (7/10) is solid, but not particularly catchy.
I think it would be fair to say that ?Wildflower? was a departure for Sheryl Crow, at least it was for me- it?s taken me almost until now (a couple of years after it?s release) to derive as much pleasure from it, as I did her previous albums almost from the out-set. But like ivy- it?s gradually grown on me and I find myself now enjoying the songs on that album almost as much as her previous efforts, just in a different, slightly more thoughtful way. ?Detours? isn?t as strong lyrically, but even on her less-than-stellar days Sheryl is still a few dozen steps above the rest in terms of skilfully touching phrasing, so there?s lots to enjoy here. But with more up-beat tunes and a lighter tone, this is likely to be the more popular album of the two and one that I predict will only grow on us all the more we take the time to listen...