Sheryl Crow, Evolution: feel-good soft rock gives way to confusion

Not quite so evolved: Sheryl Crow
Not quite so evolved: Sheryl Crow - Dove Shore/Dove Shore

Sheryl Crow has always been cool. Her So-Cal insouciance, sardonic lyrics and energetic rasp made her a musical legend – she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2023 – but her 12th studio album, Evolution, is putting her laid-back brand of “drinking beer on a Tuesday” in question.

It all starts promisingly enough. Starter track Alarm Clock tears open the record with slashes of electric guitar and talk of parties with Timothée Chalamet lookalikes and cruising the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset. So far, so tongue-in-cheek Sheryl. She quickly transitions out of these glossier stylings and slips on a sound that fits like a pair of old blue jeans: the sunny, acoustic twang that made her a turn-of-the-century radio mainstay.

The first half of the album is filled with these feel-good tracks, grooving through a philosophy that Crow has made a career of: throwing your hands up and letting life take you (but enjoying it along the way). This time, she sings of exploring spirituality with Eckhart Tolle books and experimenting with mushrooms.

At 62, Crow has lived a formidable life: from Missouri pageant queen to backing singer for Michael Jackson to amassing nine Grammy awards. She doesn’t have time for trivial concerns. Instead, she’s asking Life’s Big Questions. Will technology bring about the end of humankind? Why are some people chronic a--holes? Deep-cut Sheryl fans will know she’s no stranger to taking a meaningful stand in her music (see: the time she wrote about Walmart selling guns to children on her eponymous 1996 album, causing the retailer to ban it from its shelves), but sonically, this is where things take a turn for the, er, experimental.

The titular track sees Crow squaring up with AI technology alongside shredding guitar and what sounds like the epic climax to a sci-fi film – “evolution, ever changing, lost in space and time”, she belts from her core, “maybe there’s a grand solution / Somewhere we will find / Deep in the heart of humankind”. It would have been just the song to blast on the Interstellar soundtrack, but perhaps not through your headphones. Just three tracks later, things take a turn for the after-school special: against textures of Super Mario-style sound effects and corny gospel synths, she taunts juvenile things like “I think kind is really cool”, and “We were buds, but now I’m unfriending”. The tune is aptly named Broken Record.

2019’s Threads was meant to be her final album, a juggernaut of collaborations with larger-than-life musicians like Keith Richards and Stevie Nicks. Why release another? There are myriad reasons why an artist would go back on that statement, such as needing the money or inspiration simply striking. Whatever Crow’s motivations are, though, something tells me she doesn’t care what we think. And there’s nothing more rock ‘n’ roll than that.

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