Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Artist: CROWDED HOUSE
Album: CROWDED HOUSE
Although my college band performed “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” their gorgeous ballad with thought-provoking (and occasionally puzzling) lyrics and a stunning organ solo inspired by Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” (itself an homage to Bach), it took some time for me to appreciate what a special band Crowded House was. Perhaps it was the goofy videos for songs like “Something So Strong” and “Now We’re Getting Somewhere,” both of which are close to pop perfection, that initially turned me off, but I eventually grew to appreciate the pure joy they exhibited, which came through on record and in concert. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Neil Finn previously made a name for himself with Split Enz, the New Zealand band formed by his older brother Tim, which morphed from an art-rock ensemble to a pop/new wave hit-making machine (at least in Australia & New Zealand), although they’re best known throughout most of the world as one-hit wonders with 1980’s “I Got You.” Following that band’s breakup in 1984, the younger Finn recruited latter-day Enz drummer Paul Hester and his bass-playing fellow Australian Nick Seymour to form Crowded House.
They enjoyed immediate success with their million-selling debut album, the Mitchell Froom-produced Crowded House. In addition to the songs mentioned above, two other singles were successful in their homeland: The immensely catchy album opener, “Mean To Me,” which moves from acoustic guitar & voice to a horn-infused full band arrangement, and “World Where You Live,” which is jam-packed with melodies and tasteful organ accents. The midtempo “Hole In The River,” co-written with Finn’s Split Enz bandmate Eddie Rayner, shifts from a moody & atmospheric opening to a peppier second verse highlighted by some nice keyboard textures, a solid groove & Finn’s smooth, powerful vocals. There’s also an Enz-esque instrumental middle section with horns & piano that heads off into a jazzier direction before returning to the original melody. “Tombstone” is a fast-paced gem with a killer hook in the chorus (“Roll back the tombstone, let the saints appear”). Had this been released as a single there’s little doubt it would have been another hit. The remaining tracks are very good but have never impacted me as much as the songs I’ve discussed. With seven undisputed winners it’s hard to argue that Crowded House is one of the all-time great debuts, even though it just missed inclusion in my Great Out Of The Gate series. In spite of a few minor mid-‘80s production touches, it’s a timeless classic that still sounds fresh after 30 years.
For more on this album, check out Wardo’s even-handed (if not quite as effusive) review here.