Sunday, August 19, 2007

Album Review: Crowded House "Time on Earth"

The cover of this album says it all. Our "time on earth" is fleeting, precious, and in the case of former Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, ultimately tragic. The image of the blue dragon (depression) devouring Hester, who died by suicide in 2005, sets the tone for this thoughtful and introspective album from a reunited Crowded House.

Musically, there is nothing ground breaking here, but what you do get is more finely tuned and thoughtful song writing from Neil Finn. This album is a natural progression from his last major release, "Everyone is Here" recorded with brother Tim under the Finn Brothers moniker in 2004. In a similar vein, there is a fair deal of reflection in these songs and many of them sneak up on you with a refreshing degree of subtlety. These are the type of songs that grow on you over time and embed themselves for the long haul into your emotional weather system.

The opening track, "Nobody Wants To" appears to have been influenced by Hester's death. When Finn sings "They make it go away/Pretending that its all ok/Broken pieces on the ground/And everyone's tiptoeing round" you get a sense for the regret and loss anyone would feel under such circumstances. The song reflects the all too human tendency to brush over the uncomfortable issue of depression, often with tragic outcomes. It is both haunting and lovely and it is a definite high lite of the album.

A more classic Crowded House moment is the upbeat pop of "She Called Up" which would fit well alongside many of their previous pop gems. Of similar note is "Even A Child" , featuring guest Johnny Marr's familiar jangly guitar work, perfectly complimenting Finn's penchant for a good pop melody. A pleasant surprise is the mid-tempo and slightly ethereal "Say That Again", complete with rubbery backing synths reminiscent of Finn's early forays with Split Enz, perhaps paying homage to his new wave roots.

Also of note is "Silent House", a track co-written with the Dixie Chicks and originally recorded on their Rick Rubin produced "Taking The Long Way" album in 2006. In this case we get a less anthemic , more minimalist version, complete with background distortion and Finn's vocals more subdued than normal. This seems fitting for a song that is about looking back in regret at things left unsaid and attempting to make lost connections down the road.

This album is at times a gentle whisper, infused with moments of sweet pop to lighten the load. For every moment of regret there are moments of hope, affirming that life exists in even the darkest places. It is summed up perfectly in "The Heaven That I'm Making" where we are beckoned to consider that "if there is hell on earth, there must be heaven too/ both in one place, not a second to loose". We are left therefore with a choice, and which one do we embrace?

In exploring these dual elements we get a more complete picture of life, and ultimately a more mature and fully realized album made by a songwriter and his band that have had a lot to reflect on during their lengthy hiatus. This is definitely an album for the grown-up crowd, and of course I mean this in the best way possible.

By this point in time Neil Finn's voice has become like a familiar old friend who still has a few bitter-sweet yarns to spin. Time has infused these tales with a little more depth, meaning and urgency, aimed at getting it all out before the clock runs out.

1 comment:

jeff cothren said...

Guess I’m somewhat out of the loop, but I had no idea there was a new Crowded House album. I figured after Hester’s suicide (which was just heartbreaking; his rendition of Italian Plastic was a highlight of a show I saw back in the 90s) completely shut the door on the project. Perhaps his death prompted a reunion. Neil Finn’s voice is so natural, seems so effortless – I always thought he would be a musician no matter what time period he was born into. It’s easy to imagine him as a wandering minstrel. Like you said, his voice has just become comfortable.