Despite the presence of bassist Nick Seymour and latter-day member Mark Hart, Time On Earth is really Crowded House in name only, since the songs started out for a Neil Finn solo album. It’s also missing a lot of the quirkiness (and harmonies) that made the first four CH albums so archetypal. (The press, tour and artwork spotlit their new drummer, but he’s not even on half the album.)
Sadness permeates the album, from the tempo to the lyrics. Something’s missing, or more to the point, someone. Paul Hester was such a lovable clown for the band, and perhaps it’s a cliché to say that it wasn’t enough to keep him around. It’s tough to hear “English Trees” and “You Are The One To Make Me Cry” without getting depressed. The very quiet “A Sigh” comes immediately before the tense “Silent House”, originally written with and recorded by the Dixie Chicks. “Transit Lounge” is distracted by a foreign voice suggesting the same, with an “ethereal” woman’s voice helping out elsewhere.
There are a few tracks that will get the toes tapping in a familiar way: “Don’t Stop Now”, familiar enough for a single; “Even A Child”, written with Johnny Marr; the classic-sounding “She Called Up” and its teasing hook; “Say That Again” and its jumpy meter. “Pour Le Monde” is a nice cross of the Lennon and McCartney piano styles, with an orchestral part that reflects the better elements of the last Finn Brothers album. Thankfully, the French title is only decoration. “Walked Her Way Down” travels from a moody piano piece to an infectious track. “People Are Like Suns” is a final slow song on an album with too many of them, but becomes a good place to end.
For all its schizophrenia, perhaps the worst thing we can say about Time On Earth is that it’s too long—an ironic statement considering the title. It’s pleasant background music, and while it could be said that Crowded House was “back”, they were hardly “better than ever”.
Crowded House Time On Earth (2007)—2½