Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Crowded House, Intriguer

It’s interesting to watch what happens with popular musicians as they age.  Some disappear after their time of stardom and then reappear and do dinosaur tours when their demographic hits the nostalgia stage (any number of hair metal bands).  Some stay in the spotlight ridiculously pretending they’re still 20 years old (Mick Jagger).  Some come out of retirement and humiliate themselves with embarrassing Super Bowl shows that are all about the money-grab (The Who).  And some, like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and many jazz musicians, continue to make vibrant music that grows increasingly rich and deep with age.  Neil Finn and Crowded House fall into this last group.

At one time it didn’t look like it would turn out this way.  Crowded House officially ended their career with an extraordinary live concert at Sydney’s Opera House in 1996 which is captured on the terrific live album Farewell to the World which was also separately released as a DVD.  Nine years later Paul Hester, the band’s drummer,  took his own life after years of battling depression.  In 2007 a new album, Time on Earth, was released under the Crowded House name.  The newly formulated group combined original members Neil Finn (guitars, piano, vocals), Mark Hart (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Nick Seymour (bass, vocals) with Matt Sherrod (drums, vocals).  Most of the tracks on Time on Earth were originally intended for a Neil Finn solo CD and the album was drenched in Finn and the surviving band members coming to grips with the loss of Hester.  It could easily have been the final goodbye.

But it wasn’t.  Intriguer is a full blown Crowded House album made by a complete band making their own music and it’s very, very good.  Crowded House were always known for Finn’s exceptional song-writing skills.  The good news is that he hasn’t lost any of it.  The better news is that his personal maturity has produced lyrical maturity rather than desperate grasping for youth.  Finn’s songs are matched every step of the way by the band’s musicianship and elegant vocal work.  As a quartet, Crowded House play and sing together like the consummate professionals they are.  No grand standing, no ego trips, just well-crafted songs beautifully played and sang.

Intriguer comes with a DVD that contains a video for “Saturday Sun”, 8 tracks recorded more or less live (it looks like different takes were expertly combined) at the band’s studio in New Zealand, and two tracks recorded live at the Auckland Townhall which contains an amazing pipe organ.  The version of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” at the Townhall is not to be missed.

When I saw that Crowded House had a new release scheduled for July I was both excited and worried.  Excited because I really like the band; worried because so many bands come back with shitty albums hoping to suck cash out of the accounts of fans who want to pretend they’re still as cool as they think they were back in the day.  When I first heard Intriguer it sounded good but first impressions of CDs can, and often do, change.  They changed for Intriguer – after many listens I like it more than I did at the start.  It’s a grower.  If you’re new to Crowded House, Intriguer is as good a place to start as any. Long time fans of the band are going to thoroughly enjoy this album.  The band they loved is back and just as good, if not better, than ever.  Crowded House isn’t trying to recapture the past, they’re playing music that lives and breathes right here, right now.

Picking a couple of songs from Intriguer is impossible.  Here are two, it could have easily been any one of a half-dozed others.

“Twice if You’re Lucky”


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08/15/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Impressions: Crowded House, Intriguer

Today was a long, and possibly decisive, stage as far as the top two positions in the GC in the Tour de France so I only had time to hear Crowded House’s new album Intriguer once.  Based on that single hearing, my response was very positive.  This one could be a solid winner.

Everyone who has spent any time listening to music knows how deceptive first listenings can be.  Sometimes an album sounds terrific the first time or two and you quickly lose interest.  Other times an album sounds like nothing at first and grows into a long-term favorite.  And sometimes you get it the first time you hear it, good or bad.

Keeping that in mind, Intriguer sure sounded fine the first time out.  Some bands go on and on cranking out the same old thing looking increasingly ridiculous singing songs for 20 year olds when they’re in their 60s.  Others reunite for nostalgia cash ins and embarrass themselves with cringe worthy Super Bowl half-time shows.  However some musicians and bands continue to make vibrant music for decades.  Although not easy for anyone, it’s a bit easier for an individual to pull this off than for a band.  Crowded House may be doing it.

It’s early days for Intriguer yet, but first impressions are good.  Stay tuned.

It’s all good – here is the review of Intriguer.

07/13/2010 Posted by | First impressions, music | , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Cars, Complete Greatest Hits

I spent a long day buying a new car today so it seemed appropriate to finish the day off with a brief review of The Cars’ Complete Greatest Hits.  The Cars aren’t going to need an introduction for anyone interested in this review.  From the release of their first album The Cars in 1978 through their penultimate Heartbreak City in 1984 they were ubiquitous.  With their signature synth/pop/rock sound and Ric Ocasek’s vocals they were instantly identifiable and sounded like no one else before or since.

If buying our car had been as easy as choosing which Cars compilation to buy, we would have been finished in 10 minutes.  If you’re interested in a concise Cars collection the 20 track Complete Greatest Hits is a no-brainer.  It contains every one of their classic songs beginning with “Just What I Needed”  which launched their career when a Boston DJ began playing the demo on the radio and it became a huge local hit and carrying through to “You Are the Girl” their last single from their last album Door to Door.  Their best selling album Heartbreak City is represented by “You Might Think”, “Drive”, Magic”, “Hello Again” and “Why Can’t I Have You”.  Complete Greatest Hits is put out by Rhino who have a well deserved reputation for definitive collections just like this one.  An identical album called The Very Best of the Cars was released by Warner Brothers with different artwork on the cover.  The Rhino version is still in print.

Deep fans of The Cars will want more than the hits and Complete Greatest Hits won’t satisfy them.  However The Cars were pretty much a singles band and all of their great singles are here.  The only thing missing is an extra disc with all of those outstanding videos from Heartbreak City (hey Rhino, how about an updated version with the videos?).  If you want the Cars in all their glory, Complete Greatest Hits is it.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”  originally released on The Cars

“Drive” originally released on Heartbreak City

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Jim Noir, Jim Noir

The stories have been told many times about how the Beatles and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson were driving each other to new heights of creativity as they listened to each other’s records in the mid ’60s.  The Jim Noirresults were Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, two era-defining albums.  Of late it has become common for bands to draw from both sources for inspiration and Beach Boys styled vocal harmonies or Sgt Pepper’s type instrumentation can be found from bands as diverse as Cafe Tacuba, Panic at the Disco, and Dr. Dog

Enter Jim Noir.  Noir is what would happen if you put Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles, the Beach Boys and any number of ’60s and’70s psychedlic pop bands in a blender and pureed them into a smooth and tasty blend.  Where other bands do songs in the style of the Beatles, Noir is so saturated with his sources that he sounds more like he is drawing on the same wellsprings of inspiration as Pepper’s era McCartney, for example, than using the earlier music as a model.  This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Noir was born 12 years after the Beatles split up in 1970.

Noir makes this work because first and foremost he crafts pop tunes brilliantly.  He is a superior songwriter and arranger who is also adept at bringing modern musical technology to bear in creating his expertly crafted pop gems.  The song structures and vocal stylings and harmonies are modern examples of ’60s psychedelic pop but the songs are often saturated with current-day electronics.  He frequently uses layers upon layers of instruments, effects, and vocals but he meshes them so well that his songs never sound like a cluttered hodge-podge. 

Now take into account that Noir does all of this himself.  Noir wrote and arranged all the tunes, he sings all the lead and harmony vocals and plays all the instruments, and he recorded the album.  Jim Noir is a one man show produced by one astonishngly talented man.

Jim Noir is Noir’s second full length album following 2006’s Tower of Love.  Both albums present the same type of music with Jim Noir being the slightly more polished of the two.  Noir is unique in his talents and in his ability to so clearly evoke an earlier era while producing new and original music.  If you are a fan of ’60s psychedelic pop you do not want to miss Jim Noir.

07/04/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Stranger Things

It’s 1989 and Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians have released their debut album Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars.  Folk-pop indie band with both hooks and deep lyrics.  It’s a huge critical success.   It’s also a big commercial success led by the hit single “What I Am”.  And that voice!  Sassy, knowing, sweet, smart – you’d pay money to hear this chick sing the phonebook.  The next year the band released their sophomore album Ghost of a Dog.  Didn’t do so well and that was it.  Brickell made the news by marrying Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame and having a baby.   She released a couple of solo albums that didn’t have much of an impact but the band that had once seemed so promising disappeared after Ghost of a Dog.

Until Now.  Sixteen years later Brickell and the New Bohemians with 3 of the original 5 members have released a new album, Stranger Things.  And they’re not doing the old-fart nostalgia thing that’s been embarrasing bands and their “Hey, we’re still cool!” fans of late.  Sounds great, right?  Well, the idea sounds great.  The album?  Not so much.  This music is polite to the point of boring.  Soft-rock for the middle age, upper class lifestyle.  The voice?  you can tell it’s the same woman but that’s about it.  The life, the lilt that made “What I Am'” so mesmerizing is gone.  Result of over a decade being married to a man who is known for his “it’s all about me all the time” attitude?  middle age? living the privileged life of music royalty?  Who knows, but it’s gone.  Shame, that.  My first thought on hearing this album was “Why?”  Why wait sixteen years and then come back with this?  Why bother?  Repeated listenings didn’t provide an answer.  A major disappointment.

01/23/2007 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment