By the time of Somewhere Under Wonderland, it had been a long, rocky road between albums for alternative folk-rock superstars Counting Crows. Plenty of music had come and gone since 2008’s emotionally divided concept album Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings -- a few live albums, a record of covers, and countless shows on multiple tours. These recordings all fell short of presenting that much in the way of new original music from the band, possibly due in part to the turbulent years that followed Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, an album that would be their last for long-time label Geffen and immediately precede a stretch of personal loss and struggle for Crows singer/songwriter Adam Duritz. Despite a long period of upheaval and heavy changes, the nine songs that make up Somewhere Under Wonderland find the band sounding relaxed, optimistic, and even somewhat giddy at times. The record eases into being with the eight-minute long first single “Palisades Park,” a suite that glides through different atmospheres, lingering with the same dreamlike fluidity and colorful observational storytelling that Joni Mitchell displayed on The Hissing of Summer Lawns. The lengthy tune breezes by, shifting through Beatles-esqe organ tones, tempo changes, and Duritz’s signature characters and poetic scenes. The largely acoustic “Earthquake Driver” sounds stuck somewhere between Thin Lizzy's energetic juvenilia and Paul Simon's soul-searching wordplay circa Graceland. The band doesn’t stick with one mood for too long over the course of the album, offering Neil Young-inspired guitar rootsiness on standout track “Scarecrow,” gentle acoustic meandering and folksy vocal harmonies on “God of Ocean Tides,” and an upbeat country-rock ramble on “Cover Up the Sun.” All these stylistic detours fall under a very wide umbrella that makes Somewhere Under Wonderland distinctively Counting Crows. Duritz's raspy voice and lucid, lyrical stories always hold just a hint of desperation, and even decades into a staggered career, these new tunes can’t help but feel like part of a larger narrative that began during the band’s '90s glory days but finds further, greater refinement here.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas