With her 11th and reportedly final album, Sheryl Crow undertakes a confident albeit meandering victory lap. Across 17 songs and 75 minutes of frayed Americana and back-porch country she collaborates with no fewer than 23 artists, each one representing either Crow’s musical idols turned friends (Keith Richards, Stevie Nicks) or new-ish musicians she sees as the future (St Vincent, Maren Morris). Most of the 12 originals, four covers and one reworking of her own anti-war anthem Redemption Day loosely fall under the umbrella of protest songs, with the Chuck D-assisted Story of Everything touching on political idiocy, while opener Prove You Wrong tackles sexism and, as she recently told the LA Times, the sentiment of: “if anyone thinks that I can’t, let me just show you that I can.”
It’s a stance Crow has continually been forced to take since she swapped being Michael Jackson’s backing singer in the late 1980s for her own hugely successful career dabbling in rock, country and pop. Not cool enough to hang with the mid-90s rock crowd, Crow found herself dismissed as MOR-lite. But her biggest hits were often Trojan horses for more challenging topics (Everyday Is a Winding Road, for instance, touches on a friend’s suicide), infused with an easy melancholia. While Threads’ pop nous isn’t quite as obvious, and its themes more heavily signposted, it still offers some beautiful moments, specifically the crumpled rock of Cross Creek Road that recalls the highlights of her 1996 self-titled album. Elsewhere, the aforementioned Prove You Wrong, featuring Nicks and Morris, is a breezy bar-room stomper, while the fragile, Vince Gill-assisted closer For the Sake of Love showcases Crow’s lived-in voice to perfection.
Threads starts to, ahem, unravel when the tempo is kicked up a gear. So the hobbled strut of St Vincent collaboration Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You awkwardly showcases Crow’s rap aspirations, while Story of Everything’s six-minute genre-hop takes you on an occasionally embarrassing journey from dustbowl honky-tonk to really-makes-you-think hip-hop. Some collaborators could have been edited too, not least tantric yoga’s Sting, who mews unhelpfully on an otherwise welcome cover of George Harrison’s Beware of Darkness.
As a final hurrah, however, Threads is an ambitious, gloriously overstuffed reminder of Crow’s talents.