Monday, January 9, 2012

Crowded House 1: Crowded House

As ABBA was to Sweden, so Split Enz was to New Zealand, but without the multi-millions. Most Americans would have heard of the band thanks to MTV, when such songs as “I Got You”, “One Step Ahead” and “History Never Repeats” were in heavy rotation. (In fact, the honors for first-ever MTV world premiere video went to the band’s “Six Months In A Leaky Boat”.) These songs were written and sung by the band’s junior member Neil Finn, and when the band finally split, he formed a new one with a couple of Australians. That was Crowded House, who saw even greater success than their quirkier forefathers, but precious little in the US of A past their first album.
Neil’s pop sensibilities came across as tuneful as McCartney’s, if slightly more neurotic. Crowded House was arguably his show, but he fully relied on the harmonies and humor of Nick Seymour and Paul Hester in the rhythm section. Those who saw the band live insist that their concerts were just plain fun.
Their albums were another matter. With producer Mitchell Froom adding his brand of keyboards to the mix, the band’s style always seemed just a little outside what sold records in America. Their eponymous debut didn’t sell at all until the fourth single release, the exquisite ballad “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. Its simple chords and “hey now” hook gave them a #2 single, and finally convinced people to check out the whole album.
Side one is terrific. “World Where You Live” and “Mean To Me” eventually got airplay, while “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” and “Love You ‘Til The Day I Die” offered two sides of romance with some humor. (We’re pretty sure that’s Paul shrieking the count-in to the latter.) Side two begins with “Something So Strong”, the next big single supported by another wacky video, but the rest of the album isn’t quite as, well, strong. Part of its effectiveness can be ascribed to the times, when glossy synths and horn sections were used to decorate scenery that could have better stood on its own. We’re still not sure why someone’s aunt lies in a “Hole In The River”, though we’re pretty sure that’s not why we should roll back the “Tombstone”. “That’s What I Call Love” has a lot of production for something that would have been a B-side in another time.
But money talks, and the album sold enough copies to keep their record label interested for a follow-up. However, as an album, Crowded House may not be their best. But as a collection of singles, it more than delivers. (The current 11-song CD is slightly different from the original 10-track American release, which for some reason moved “Mean To Me” down to the fourth song on the first side; it was the opener elsewhere. Also, a remake of “I Walk Away” from the last Enz album appeared in place of “Can’t Carry On”.) Three decades later, the Deluxe Edition of the album proved just how well crafted the songs were by the time the record was mastered, by including a bonus disc full of writing demos and band demos, both detailing how some of those hooks found their way to other songs, and just how wincingly ‘80s the album might have turned out. (To wit, the wacky arrangement of “Walking On The Spot”, a gorgeous song from their fourth album, truly jars the time-space continuum.) There even a few live recordings from the era before they decided on the band name, of songs that never made it to albums proper.

Crowded House Crowded House (1986)—3
2016 Deluxe Edition: same as 1986, plus 17 extra tracks

5 comments:

  1. I've been reading your blog now for a couple of years and haven't made a comment...so it is time.
    Your work is as good as anyone's, Lester Bang's included. I've found your album reviews are very valuable to me when deciding whether or not a add an album to my collection. Along with your comments and insights, I like the simple straightforward number rating system. [Hopefully, you won't change that one day like Robert Christgau did with his '90s guide.] Anyway, I appreciate your work. Thanks.
    I might even have to check out "Streets of Fire."
    Phil

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    1. How did I not thank you for these kind words five years ago? Anyway, shame on me. Hope you still enjoy what you see here, if you're still out there.

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  2. Aw c'mon. Its good songs are far-better than its bad songs are weak.

    At least give the damn thing a three and-a-half...

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  3. i never understood the appeal of their one american hit. it's boring, makes no sense, and makes me think of suicide.

    richard

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  4. F- Lester Bangs. This kid actually makes sense. I infer you did not see CH live. That's a pity. You are right. They were definitely a live band. Saw them at the Wiltern in LA in 1991, and Hester stripped down to his birthday suit. Never felt inclined to see them after his suicide. Just not the same.

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