It's been fourteen years since the last Crowded House album, and eleven since their farewell concert.
Since then, Neil Finn has released two fine solo albums and two collaborations with his brother Tim, but never quite recaptured the unhinged genius the band had in the days of landmark albums Temple of Low Men and Woodface. After drummer Paul Hester's suicide in 2005, it seemed unlikely there'd ever be a reunion. But listening to the elegiac songs on Time On Earth, it seems like Hester's tragic passing has given the band a renewed purpose.
On "Don't Stop Now," when Finn sings, "There's no number on the house / The birds are heading south / Sometimes you have to turn the wrong way round," you get the feeling that he's mourning for his old friend. "Silent House," a song Finn co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks (they cut it on their recent album) also seems to come from the grieving place, from the title on down. And the heart-stopping "You Are The Only To Make Me Cry" is probably Finn's most naked song ever, with him whispering over an autumnal string arrangement, "Of all the people in my life / My thoughts keep returning to you / But consciousness is fading fast."
But happily, the late Hester's mischievous spirit is also celebrated on more upbeat songs, such as the spunky "She Called Up," "Walked Her Way Down," and "Even A Child," the latter co-written with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
Produced by Ethan Johns and Steve Lillywhite, with their flair for keeping sounds both organic and majestic, the record honors the band's past without being too reverent, and wisely avoids any attempts at trendiness.
With original bassist Nick Seymour, keyboardist Mark Hart (who was part of the last two CH albums), and new drummer Matt Sherrod aboard, Neil Finn unveils a renovated Crowded House that's more somber, but still alive with fantastic sounds. • Bill DeMain
enjoy an interview with Nick Seymour in our next issue