Disc Review: Here to stay

Sheryl Crow just keeps improving with age, and Wildflower is her most mature, fully realized album to date.

sheryl crow disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
sheryl crow disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
SHERYL CROW Wildflower (Helicon) Sheryl Crow just keeps improving with age, and Wildflower is her most mature, fully realized album to date. Which means that she's no longer writing with one ear to the fickle pop charts, a habit which produced such hummable but light fare as "Soak Up the Sun." Instead, in a similar vein to accomplished female rocker colleagues like Lucinda Williams and Aimee Mann - she's settled into a rootsy groove that's more suited for the long haul. The hooks may be more muted, but they're more heartfelt. The opening blend of acoustic and electric twang on "I Know Why" - reminiscent of Neil Young's Harvest-era guitar stylings and chord progressions - sets the pace for the rest of the record. The songs have a bittersweet quality to them lyrically, augmented by the minor key song structures, and Crow's well-developed sense of melody and arrangement. "Perfect Lie" and the single "Good is Good" are rich, warm tracks as accomplished as anything Crow has ever done. The album tends to drag in the middle a bit - due to the feather-light title track. But it rebounds nicely with a varied mix of punchy mid-tempo rockers like "Lifetimes" and introspective ballads, particularly the piano-based "Always on Your Side," which sounds like a long-lost Elton John track (and includes the tribute line "Butterflies are free to fly" from "Someone Saved my Life Tonight"). The luscious 60s psychedelic bubblegum closer "Where Has All the Love Gone" ends the proceedings on a light, but wistful note, and proves that Crow is not only an astute fan of pop history, she's making her own. NEW ORDER Singles (Hed Artzi) Are they a smart new wave guitar band? A sassy disco-inspired synth pop band? Singles, which tracks the career of New Order via their officially released 45s and B-sides argues that they're two bands in one. Beginning in the early 80s, New Order helped bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap between the post-punk rock world from which they spawned and the bubbling dance music which had taken over the clubs. It would have been impossible to think of bands like Depeche Mode emerging without the groundwork laid by the innovative British band which arose from the remnants of legendary British post-punk unit Joy Division. The 31 tracks on Singles follows the band's evolution from the guitar-based popsters of 1981's "Ceremony" through their jittery bass, drums and synth-heavy dance phase of "Temptation," "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle," and back to the sleek guitar rock of their current incarnation. And it's a journey worth taking. However, there are plenty dance rave ups which don't stand the test of time and sound like Pet Shop Boy rejects (1985's "Perfect Kiss" and "Subculture" come to mind) , but as often as not, the group's pastiche of electronica, experimental rhythms and percussion, and the "lead" bass playing of Peter Hook, prove a riveting experience. While Singles works better as a historical document than as living music, it still makes a strong case of New Order's importance in establishing a new order which changed the face of pop.