Friday, March 23, 2012

Crowded House 4: Together Alone

Having a fourth member around to help with guitars and keyboards must have appealed to the boys, as their fourth album added Mark Hart as a full contributor. Together Alone was released worldwide in the fall of 1993, but didn’t appear in the US until January 1994, when it was promptly ignored by anyone who hadn’t already bought the import. Mitchell Froom is nowhere to be found, refreshingly. Consequently, the songs aren’t as quirky, and provide more space for the sounds to fill.
“Kare Kare” would be a dreamy soundscape of the beach near where they created the album, if not for the drums. Much more insistent is “In My Command” is more insistent, with an edgy verse but more “classic” chorus. “Nails In My Feet” sounds a lot like “Catherine Wheels” towards the end of the album, and revives some of the angst from Temple Of Low Men. There’s a relentless rocker in “Black & White Boy” that makes it infectious, despite the vagueness of the lyrics and the rhythm turning up on “Skin Feeling” later on. The slow-burning “Fingers Of Love”, with its Leslie-effect guitar, slows things down again, while the folky “Pineapple Head” is just plain charming and ambiguous. “Locked Out” was the first single, another terrific pop song and most likely given its greatest exposure by its inclusion on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
A lengthy detour to native surroundings threatens to stop the album cold, however. “Private Universe” opens with what sounds like traffic leaving a city, ending up at the seashore surrounded by log drummers. Even though “Walking On The Spot” is another slow one, it’s so lovely, even if it is about marital strife, and the accordion doesn’t even ruin it. It’s a sneaky prelude to “Distant Sun”, the best song on the album, and one of the best constructed songs Neil Finn has ever written. It doesn’t break any rules, relying on those familiar C-shape chords in the usually changes, but arranged in such a way—maybe it’s the familiarity—that fits like a pair of old jeans. As mentioned, “Catherine Wheels” sounds a little too familiar, but the subtle harmony by brother Tim edges it along its deceptive length. Paul Hester is thrown a bone with “Skin Feeling”, and then the log drummers return, with a Maori choir in tow, for the title track.
Despite the repetition, Together Alone delivers enough variety and familiarity to make it a strong entry in the Crowded House pantheon. As nobody in America cared, despite a record company push promised in the pages of Billboard, that might have had something to do with why the whole business ground to a halt.
As with most Deluxe Editions of albums we like a lot, the one for Together Alone has a lot to live up to. A small handful of demos show songs that were arguably improved for the release, while the so-called “Zen mix” of “Locked Out” fits very well with the near-ambient B-side “Zen Roxy”. It also has four otherwise unknown but promising songs, four from the studio and two live, the latter so new we get to hear Neil Finn calling out the chord changes.

Crowded House Together Alone (1994)—4
2016 Deluxe Edition: same as 1994, plus 14 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty much in agreement with your ratings. Temple of Low Men has the best songs, Together Alone is the most atmospheric and ambitious. I don't really rate Woodface at all cos it's a bit dull (thanks Tim). I'd owned the first album for a year before anyone in NZ radio started to notice it, thanks to the US picking up Don't Dream It's Over. I've never managed to re-engage with the reformed version of the band, though I have an idea of what I'll get if I do.