The successor to the critically acclaimed The Houston Kid was released in 2003 on DMZ Records/Epic. Rodney wrote all the songs solo this time, and there is quite a personal feel to most of them, with the overall theme of dealing with a midlife crisis. Stylistically, it really falls outside the boundaries of any particular genre; nothing about it sounds particularly country, and it seems clear that Rodney had moved on.
There were two unsuccessful singles, ‘Earthbound’ and the title track. ‘Earthbound’, Rodney’s last charting single (an unimpressive #60 peak) is not very memorable and too repetitive, but it is at least a bit better than ‘Fate’s Right Hand’. The latter has a dense politically inspired lyric (the one comprehensible section is about Bill Clinton’s sex scandal) but one that doesn’t hang together very well, with Rodney rattling out the words seemingly at random to virtually no melody, with 90% of the song being chanted on a single note. Sending this virtually unlistenable song to radio feels like a deliberate statement that Rodney had no further interest in the country mainstream. Radio returned the favor.
The philosophical opener. ‘Still Learning How To Fly’, which Rodney wrote back in 1997 and previously recorded on the self-titled album by The Cicadas, a one-off band project which allowed Rodney to exercise his inner rocker, is pretty good. It has a more hopeful mood than the remainder of the record, and perhaps might have worked better as the closing track (as it was on The Cicadas).
I liked the slow part-narration ‘Time To Go Onward’, the story of a man gathering the courage to explore his psyche and conscience:
Prison bars imagined are no less solid steel
Time to go inward
Would you believe that I’m afraid
To stare down the barrel of the choices I have made?
They say a man without a conscience
Is like a man without a country
Or something like that
It leads appropriately into the fiercely excoriating self-examination of ‘The Man In Me’, which has an excellent and engrossing lyric, but once again no tune to speak of:
I don’t like him at all
God, I gotta get away from the man in me
‘Preachin’ To The Choir’ is equally confessional about Rodney’s failings but with a cheerier feel and quite a catchy arrangement.
‘Ridin’ Out The Storm’ is a beautifully written and sympathetic portrait of a homeless man in New York, who
lies sleeping like an angel while his heart pretends to beat
as he sleeps in a cardboard box. Kim Richey harmonises, and the song proves that Rodney had not lost the knacking of writing a pretty tune.
‘It’s A Different World Now’ has a gentle melody belying the accusatory lyrics as Rodney contrasts youthful idealism with the state of the modern world.
In the name of self defense we built bombs to prove a point
And we’d drop them on our neighbors when their nose got out of joint
To sell the same hamburger rainforests had to go
Hell, we don’t need no air to breathe, but just don’t tell us no
In life’s rich beauty pageant we put children on a stage
Say flash your soft white belly child but just don’t act your age
Sell sex like cotton candy to young and old alike
When you’ve outlived the fantasy, girl, you can take a hike
It’s a different world now, but what to do
We had our fifteen minutes and we blew it right on cue
We used up mother nature like a twenty dollar whore
It’s a different world now
There ain’t no more
The tender ‘Adam’s Song’, comforting friends for this loss of a child, is quite pretty with a hushed acoustic backing. The mid-tempo ‘This Too Will Pass’ offers consolation to those enduring difficulties in life. It is apparently in part a tribute to Beatle George Harrison, who died in 2001, and inspired by the latters 1970 song ‘All Things Must Pass’.
I didn’t like ‘Come On Funny Feelin’’, a fluffy little song about wanting to fall in love with an unattractive arrangement.
On this album, interesting lyrics are too often marred by lack of melody. While it was received well at the time of its release by many critics, perhaps still in the thrall of the still much admired The Houston Kid, few if any of the songs would be included on many lists of ‘best songs by Rodney Crowell’. Sales were relatively poor. Used copies can be found very cheaply.