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”
Scouting For Girls is a trio (guitar/keyboards, bass, drums) out of London. Everybody Wants To Be On TV is their second album. They have achieved success in the UK where their first album briefly reached number one in the charts.
I haven’t been listening to much of this type of music lately and perhaps that is the problem. Scouting For Girls sounds to me like a band with a desperate desire to have their songs featured during the last minute of some crappy TV show. It’s all pop hooks, overwrought emotion, and yearning choruses and, at least to me, it sounds like a zillion other bands who are grinding the same career path. Opening track “This Ain’t a Love Song” is a solid track with a good vocal hook for a chorus but once you’ve heard it you’ve heard just about everything the band has to offer.
Somewhere there is an industrial plant that churns out these bands and the songs they play on a monthly schedule. If you blew it up, they’d just build another one because this is what the big musak business is all about.
“This Ain’t A Love Song”
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