Review: Songs on a road to nowhere: Mark Cooper watches Sheryl Crow's return to London at the Shepherd's Bush Empire

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The Independent Online
Somewhere near the end of Sheryl Crow's packed show at the Empire, the band launched into a ballad with one of the huge choruses that this Missouri-born singer-songwriter seems to toss off in her sleep. While the band held down the melody, Crow threw back her curls and started scatting phrases into the mike, seemingly bent on a Bob Marley-style call-and-response exchange with the crowd. Fortunately, it never came to that but rather a lot of Crow's triumphant return to London was given over to honouring such rock 'n' roll rituals. Unfortunately, the songs fared less well.

Something curious often happens to songwriters when they hit the road. They start off as observant outsiders and they wind up wanting to be just another boy in the band. Of course, Sheryl Crow is hardly your typically introverted American singersongwriter. Last year's critically acclaimed Tuesday Night Music Club was the product of extended jamming sessions in producer Bill Bottrell's living room in Pasadena. Yet although the loose funk 'n' roll of the album was clearly a collective achievement, Crow herself was surely responsible for creating a fresh gallery of American losers and for throwing them in at the deep end of situations where character turns out to be destiny.

'Took your car / Drove to Texas / Sorry, honey / But I suspected we were through' - the opening lines of 'Can't Cry Anymore' are typical, hotwiring us to characters who know their circumstances well enough but haven't got a grip on where they're heading. The whole package was a smart update on the Seventies American roots music perfected by the likes of Little Feat, Steely Dan and Bonnie Raitt, complicated by the fact that Crow looks more like a model than a poet of the down- trodden. The increasingly veteran fans of this genre could thus celebrate Crow's insights while marvelling at her cheek-bones.

Crow started off well with two or three of her strongest songs but soon the voice started to go, the band began to bluster and the songs were sacrificed to Crow's increasingly coy stage persona. On record, 'What I Can Do for You' is a scathing indictment of a high- rolling lech in the shape of an abusive come-on speech by the man himself. Crow must have had to listen to her fair share of those speeches yet there she was putting aside her guitar and keyboards and strutting centre-stage, curls flying while she danced in skirt and halter top. A reasonable response to the music, no doubt, but the lech seemed to be getting off scot-free. As the night wore on, she slipped further back into the mix and her sly stories were steam- rollered by her desire to kick ass.

By the end, Crow's lyrics seemed to be saying one thing and her bare belly-button another. When she's writing songs, Crow knows how to become someone else; on stage she hasn't yet worked out who she wants to be or even how to be herself.

(Photograph omitted)