Intriguer

Crowded House

Universal, 2010

http://www.crowdedhouse.com

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/18/2010

Crowded House formed in Melbourne, Australia during the mid-‘80s after the bust up of New Zealand New Wave pop group Spilt Enz, of which Neil Finn was the lead singer and chief songwriter. Between 1985 and 1996, Finn’s second group released five studio albums and regularly toured both nationally and abroad, which saw them evolve from an alternative pop group to a mainstream, hit-making band. Pop classics like “Better Be Home Soon” and “It’s Only Natural” were indicative of the Crowded House sound, which was greatly enhanced by their catchy arrangements and Finn’s soulful voice. 

The band reached their pinnacle in 1991 with the release of the multi-platinum, hit laden Woodface, which not only included the aforementioned songs but also hit singles “Chocolate Cake” and “Weather With You.” That album was to be the group’s second-to-last before they embarked on their farewell tour in 1996, concluding before a massive crowd outside the Sydney Opera House in November of that year. The breakup, as it were, lasted a full ten years before Neil and cofounding member Mark Seymour (bass and vocals) decided to put the band back together and record some new material. 

This, of course, was not only great news for devotees like myself, but a rather sad occasion, too, because the reformed lineup would not feature drummer Paul Hester, who tragically took his own life in 2005 after long suffering from depression. Although the lineup of Crowded House changed throughout the years anyway, it did take a while to get used to Hester’s absence just the same. 

The new four-piece lineup consisted of Finn and Seymour, joined by Mark Hart (piano/keys and guitars) and Matt Sherrod (on drums), and although they are unquestionably a great band, their first studio album in over a decade (2007’s nbtc__dv_250 Time On Earth) found them sounding a little unsure of themselves, as it seemed they were grappling with the conundrum of how much like their old selves should they sound. The songs were all well-crafted (as usual), but none of them were truly going to rival any of the band’s classic material in the longevity stakes. 

Having said that, it was great to see the band back and out on the road again, playing their hits and thoroughly enjoying it for the first time in a long time. Following a short break to recharge the batteries, the group flew to Auckland (NZ, Finn’s hometown) to begin recording the follow-up to the reunion album. A few of the songs that would end up on the record had already been tested on the road the previous year, and for me, they were superior to anything that appeared on Time On Earth, so when the release date for this album was announced earlier this year, my fingers were crossed. 

More than anything, I was hoping that the band could recapture that old magic and at least come up with a collection of songs to rival the quality and poignancy of their classic period. I was thrilled, then, to discover that after all these years, Crowded House has made one of their very best albums. In fact, I think it’s so good that – apart from Woodface – I would say that this release is their best so far.

Intriguer is the most sonically enchanting album the guys have ever produced, and each and every one of these brilliantly crafted songs is right up there with the best songs Finn has ever penned. Opener and lead single “Saturday Sun” is an instant classic that not only sets the tone for what is to follow but it also reminds me what a wonderfully gifted songwriter Finn really is.  The subtleness of “Archer’s Arrow” is its genius, the track building beautifully into each sweeping chorus. 

More highlights follow as Finn explores themes of love, loss, and his travels with the eclectic “Amsterdam” and the understated beauty of “Either Side Of The World.” “Falling Dove” is one of the groups most Beatle-esque moments, with Finn channeling his inner McCartney for a stirring performance. My favorite song here is the glorious rocker “Inside Out” that finds Finn at odds with his extroverted alter-ego (“The extrovert is always in your face / Unaware he’s invading your personal space / Take him out the impostor, put a monkey in his place”). Meanwhile, the melancholy duo of “Even If” and “Elephants” close out the album with some trademark harmonies and more soul-searching lyrics.

It’s a harmonious and subtle end to what is a wonderfully crafted and poignant record. Intriguer is without a doubt one of the most beautiful sounding pop albums I have ever heard, and it’s all due to the stellar performance of this incredible band and their gifted leader.

Rating: A

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