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13 Years Ago: Counting Crows’ ‘This Desert Life’ Album Released

CountingCrows, 'This Desert Life'

The surprising and almost overwhelming success of the Counting Crows‘ 1993 debut album, ‘August and Everything After,’ and its crossover smash single, ‘Mr. Jones,’ didn’t seem to cheer up singer Adam Duritz one bit. The band’s follow-up, ‘Recovering the Satellites,’ peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and spawned its own string of hits, but the disc oozed the melancholic vibe of someone still finding his way. The group’s third album, ‘This Desert Life,’ however, finally found Duritz and co. in a playful mood, taking a more laid-back approach to life and seemingly appreciating their popularity. Today, we celebrate the album’s 13th anniversary.

Counting Crows shook things up a bit for the recording of ‘This Desert Life,’ released Nov. 1, 1999. They recruiting their friend Dave Lowry, frontman for the band Cracker, to co-produce alongside Dennis Herring (Throwing Muses, Camper Van Beethoven) and holed up in a rented house in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles for several months. “I had this idea about starting without really being prepared,” Duritz explained of the process. It was the first time the band had ever spent time composing music while in the studio, and the loose atmosphere translates well on the disc.

“The sound is more colorful, with more texture,” Duritz said of ‘Desert Life.’ “My vocals are a little more up front. The vocals are in-your-face, and stark, with no reverb.” Added Lowery, “I think [what we’re doing] has elements of the two previous albums. But it’s a little sparser. The dynamics are more extreme.”

That dynamic and colorful approach can be heard loud and clear on first single, ‘Hangingaround,’ a decidedly upbeat party-time jam with lyrics to match. “It’s about a wild time when I was growing up. Living a bit of a wild life, celebrating that,” Duritz has said, thinking back to his mid-20’s. “It’s also about being scared that you don’t have a future, but … just deciding to continue having fun and to worry about it later.” ‘Hangingaround’ made an impact on a variety of different charts, including a No. 22 showing on the Billboard Hot 100.

‘This Desert Life,’ meanwhile, debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and eventually was certified platinum. That’s a long ways away from the 7 million copies ‘August and Everything After’ sold, but it was still considered a success. It was also the last Counting Crows album to reach platinum status. Follow-up singles — the piano-driven ‘Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby’ and the bittersweet ‘All My Friends’ — also made decent impacts on the charts.

And while ‘This Desert Life’ earned generally mixed reviews, the Counting Crows had by this time established a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with listeners: Either you adored them or you didn’t. Not everybody loves Counting Crows, obviously, but for those that do, ‘This Desert Life’ remains a favorite to this day.

Watch the Video for ‘Hangingaround’ by Counting Crows

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Watch the Video for ‘Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye’ by Counting Crows

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Watch the Video for ‘All My Friends’ by Counting Crows

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