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Crowded House

As the multi-“perm”utations of an inherited SPLIT ENZ came to a head, remaining singer-songwriter/guitarist Neil Finn and drummer Paul Hester wanted to ferment their own act, more relevant to the mid 80s and not stuck in a rut or in some time-warped “old” wave scene. New Zealand-founded SPLIT ENZ were – and always had been – the kooky creation of Neil’s elder brother TIM FINN (a solo artist in his own right), plus a leaky boat of a dozen or so other members and affiliates. From the early 70s until late ’84, their tongue-in-cheek SPARKS-to-DEVO-like diversions were just the ticket for anti-pop Antipodeans, who would lap up their “Mental Notes” and quirky “Disrhythmia’s”.
When the madness and mayhem – image-wise at least – had subsided into manacled mainstream repression, Neil and Paul bailed out to form another band, at first calling themselves The Mullanes, in reference to the former’s middle moniker and his mother’s maiden name. Craig Hooper (of The Reels) would play guitar up until his departure, while Nick Seymour (ex-Plays With Marionettes, and younger brother of HUNTERS + COLLECTORS’ Mark Seymour) made up the Australasian-based trio, who would record their first album for Capitol Records in their newfound base of Los Angeles.
1986’s eponymous, Mitchell Froom-produced kick-starter, CROWDED HOUSE {*7}, enjoyed massive home-soil and near Top 10 Stateside status, but in Britain things turned decidedly frosty. Taking the popcraft of SPLIT ENZ and injecting it with an aching melody, Neil proved himself an exquisite songwriter. The standout track was the bittersweet `Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (a Top 3 US smash and a belated UK Top 30 hit for both the band and PAUL YOUNG respectively), while other amiable songs of quality were major/minor hits `Something So Strong’ and `World Where You Live’.
Yet they couldn’t repeat the formula on follow-up, TEMPLE OF LOW MEN (1988) {*7}; the album just scraping into the American Top 40 and again failing miserably in Britain. Darker and deeper with a penchant for BEATLES-esque songcraft, CROWDED HOUSE explored infidelity through `Into Temptation’ (a failed 45) and other worldly subject matter, although it was in closing piece `Better Be Home Soon’, that caught the attention of a lovelorn youth unaffected by the impending music scenes about to engulf the globe.
There was only one thing for it, brother Tim had to return (as 4th member). With his additional songwriting skills and harmony vocals, 1991’s Top 10 WOODFACE {*9} was a near masterpiece. If signature tune `Weather With You’ was perhaps a little sugary and `Chocolate Cake’ a mite leaden, there was no denying the swoonsome beauty of `Fall At Your Feet’ and the almost spiritual reverence of fourth UK hit, `Four Seasons In One Day’. The trademark offbeat humour was still bubbling under the surface, rising to the top on the likes of `There Goes God’. Although the set was slow to pick up, it deservedly spent more than two years in the British charts, although incredibly it failed to take off in the States, stalling at #83.
An unlikely pairing with former KILLING JOKE bassist/dance guru, Youth, led to CROWDED HOUSE’s most experimental, profound and possibly next-to-finest effort by way of TOGETHER ALONE (1993) {*8}. Now minus a solo-engaged TIM FINN (who would remain active with Neil as FINN/The FINN BROTHERS) and recorded at a remote coastal area of Kare Kare in their native New Zealand, the album was shrouded in an atmosphere of mystical calm and resolve, even on the rockier tracks such as `Locked Out’. Tim’s berth now fully occupied by American Mark Hart (who’d been promoted from US tour guitarist to bona fide member), `Distant Sun’ was a glorious burst of life-affirming, semi-acoustic melody, although it was the hypnotic grace of `Fingers Of Love’, `Nails In My Feet’ and `Pineapple Head’ – all UK Top 30 entries – that really carried the essence of this pop-rock masterpiece.
Enjoying another extended residence in the UK charts, few could have predicted it would be the band’s swansong. Yet after a further bout of touring and a No.1 compilation, RECURRING DREAM: THE VERY BEST OF CROWDED HOUSE (1996) {*9} – including a couple of fresh hits in `Instinct’ and `Not The Girl You Think You Are’ – the band announced a split amid tearful farewell shows. If a poignantly-reprised `Don’t Dream It’s Over’ Top 30 return was a clue or anything to go by, the group were not quite done and dusted, as an album of leftovers and rarities, AFTERGLOW (1999) {*6}, picked up some healthy sales, while NEIL FINN continued to encapsulate his followers through solo albums such as 1998’s `Try Whistling This’.
In a way to combat the grief after losing bandmate/buddy Paul Hester to suicide on March 26, 2005, Neil and CROWDED HOUSE reconvened with Nick Seymour and Mark Hart, while a drummer, the California-born Matt Sherrod (ex-BECK), was found in time for rehearsals and subsequent sessions. Signed to Parlophone Records (ATO in the US), 2007’s subdued and meditative TIME ON EARTH {*7} was a return to the charts; even Americans giving it the thumbs up and a Top 50 placing. Significant songs aside (and that included a piece penned with JOHNNY MARR: `Even A Child’, and one scribed with The DIXIE CHICKS: `Silent House’), there was room for Peruvian-born/Bristol-raised chanteuse BETH ROWLEY on `Transit Lounge’; better still, it was worth admission price alone for `English Trees’, `Pour Le Monde’ and `Don’t Stop Now’.
Encouraged by the attention received by an adorning public, the same CROWDED HOUSE inked deals at Universal and Fantasy Records (UK and US respectively), and hit the mark again with INTRIGUER (2010) {*7}. Noticeably chirpier and sharper lyrically, the quartet’s work-outs revelled in hazy-day hope and honesty, while soothing soft-rock songs such as `Saturday Sun’, `Twice If You’re Lucky’ and the acoustic-led `Falling Dove’, were as distant in mood to anything relayed on the subsequent NEIL FINN set, `Dizzy Heights’ (2014).
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2015

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