Once a style has moved from retro through nouveau, is there anything left? It's a valid question for the Black Crowes. The band hangs its influences on the sleeves so obviously--the Rolling Stones and the Faces--that you have to wonder what it's thinking. There's absolutely nothing modern about digging in the past's bag and churning out something so faithful to the days gone by that it feels as dated and dusty as an eight-track. It's not exactly postmodern, because there's nothing self-reflexive about the Crowes' boogie-woogie. And it sure as hell ain't camp, because you can bet Susan Sontag doesn't listen to either.
The question would make for a staggeringly convoluted and discursive essay from Lithuanian poststructural giant Slavoj Zizek were it not for the fact that both bands approach their respective genres with genuine sincerity. Ever since the Crowes rumbled out of Georgia in 1990 with Shake Your Money Maker, and impossibly skinny vocalist Chris Robinson wiggled "Jealous Again" and "Hard to Handle" into heavy MTV rotation, the band has done its best to push classic rock out of the frequencies of AOR radio stations and into the dial space of now-sound pop.
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It's a loyalty that goes beyond mere music. This five-piece has weathered the lineup changes and label hopping that befell any rocking '70s outfit once disco became an inferno. They tour constantly like headstrong veterans, dress like gypsies, flit around with celebrities and have shared the stage with--gasp--JimmyFuckingPage. But keeping the proverbial shit real doesn't guarantee you a career. The success of the Crowes' debut has steadily dwindled over the years, despite hearty offerings along the way, such as 1994's Amorica. And that very dedication to the craft is starting to look and feel like an Emotional Rescue or Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners, sounding not with the times despite the competency and commitment to craft. Their latest, Lions, is chock-full of the Crowes' usual bluesy, boozy shimmy--"Lickin'" or "Losing My Mind"--but the album doesn't have the same swagger.