Geffen - 2002 - 67 minutes

Counting Crows fans may be legion but saying that they've never made an album better than their debut seems to be an argument you can't lose. 'Hard Candy' continues the septet's skill for solid if unspectacular albums yet rarely sounds like it's challenging anyone on either side of the speakers.

The letdown is that most of the songs just aren't interesting enough: brilliant musicianship granted, but the arrangements don't hook you or distinguish them from other 'older rock' American outfits.

Not even the appearance of Sheryl Crow can raise 'American Girls' above the status of sounding like the theme tune to another US TV series and while 'Holiday in Spain' is a superior lesson in moodiness, the rest of the album's low key dynamics pale if you compare them to, say, Pearl Jam.

'Hard Candy's sweetest when they take bail themselves out of the dumps: 'Butterfly in Reverse' wining you over with its unashamed Bacharach and the album's best moment, 'New Frontier', giving a cool nod and wink at 80's pop. Hopefully we'll get more risks like these next time round.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Hard Candy - American Girls - Good Time - If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead) - Goodnight LA - Butterfly in Reverse - Miami - New Frontier - Carriage - Black and Blue - Why Should You Come When I Call? - Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood) - Holiday in Spain - 4 White Stallions - You Ain't Going Nowhere