Crowded House: Time on Earth

Music Reviews Crowded House
Crowded House: Time on Earth

Hey now, hey now… don’t dream, it’s awesome

Crowded House fans haven’t exactly been waiting for a new record for 14 years. After the band’s historic farewell concert in Sydney in 1996, and the untimely death of drummer Paul Hester two years ago, a new Crowded House record seemed as likely as a Police reunion tour. So when Neil finn’s new solo effort, helmed by Ethan Johns (Jayhawks, Ryan Adams), slowly began morphing into a Crowded House project, the excitement among fans was slightly attenuated. On one hand, the reformation of their beloved Crowdies felt organic and real. On the other, it felt a lot like an accident. Which might explain the feeling you get listening to the results.

Time on Earth sounds like a set of really polished demo tracks for what could’ve been a brilliant Crowded House record, or perhaps the most live-sounding, rhythm-section-driven solo effort finn has ever released. But it hangs in limbo between the two, which will probably leave Crowded House fans eager to hear the next effort, after new Drummer Matt Sherrod has had time to put his stamp on the group, and the Crowdies as a whole have settled back into real band chemistry.

What we do have with Time on Earth is another batch of finn’s impeccably crafted pop gems. “Nobody Wants To” opens the record in the same mid-tempo melancholy mood he’s owned since “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” The ebullient “Don’t Stop Now” features songwriting collaboration and guitar work from former Smith Johnny Marr. The first potential classic is “Pour Le Monde,” a heartbreaking track so full of grief and gravity that one can’t help but call Hester’s loss to mind.

But Finn’s writing has become more indirect over the years, rarely addressing anything so concrete as “subject matter” or “thematic material,” yet brilliantly evoking haunting images that shift and reveal new meanings over time. “Silent House,” co-written with the Dixie Chicks, continues in this ethereal vein, with circular percussion and arching, Lanois-like guitar tracks drenched in overdrive and reverb, the mood again casting a sideways glance in the direction of Hester’s demise, yet retaining an open, pregnant ambiguity. Many other writers employ this kind of impressionistic technique, but not nearly to such intriguing effect. The rest of the record is predictably workmanlike, yet even the lesser tracks hint at depth yet to be revealed. finn’s work isn’t just durable; it grows over time. Just another reason why you’ll be hard pressed to find a better tunesmith writing today.

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