Few bands have experienced the diverse critical reception that has greeted Counting Crows since its emergence with 1993's mostly acclaimed August And Everything After. Alternately hailed as emotionally evocative chroniclers of classic American rock and earnest, derivative, formula-bound mopes, Adam Duritz and company at least deserve credit for consistently eliciting strong reactions. Appropriately, the new This Desert Life is a mixed bag from the opening strains of "Hanginaround" on: The song sounds like an especially cluttered demo, but at least it launches the album in a welcome spirit of musical playfulness. The rambling "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" has nearly eight minutes to convey its knockabout charms, and the investment pays off, but "Amy Hit The Atmosphere" quickly plunges the depths of self-parody, with loads of gloom, doom, and tired references to the rain. (Quick: Name one song on August And Everything After that doesn't mention the rain. Could it be "Raining In Baltimore"? "Rain King"?) The rest of This Desert Life is an uneven mish-mash of nicely atmospheric ballads ("I Wish I Was A Girl") and audaciously heavy-handed imagery ("St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream"), and its appeal is based largely on your appreciation of the album's predecessors. This Desert Life does little to break with the increasingly well-worn Counting Crows formula, though songs referencing the sun outnumber those referencing the rain, three to two.