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”
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.
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
Another eight years, another Sade CD. Sade burst on the scene with mega-hit “Smooth Operator” in 1984. Several relatively fast albums followed and then she slowed into her current groove. Eight year gaps have separated each of her last three albums. This isn’t a sound business strategy if you’re an act trying to maximize visibility and income. For a mature artist like Sade who is apparently interested in making music when and how it suits her, it works just fine.
Although she has not been prolific, most listeners will know what to expect from a Sade CD: that lovely, mellow, and somewhat exotic voice, lilting rhythms, and smooth mid-tempo arrangements. That’s pretty much exactly what you’ll get on Soldiers of Love. For the most part Sade sings love and relationship songs and much has been made of the darker view of these topics she takes on Soldiers of Love in comparison with her earlier albums. I don’t know her lyrics well enough to know if this is the case and lyrics for any artist tend to get through to me only if interest in in the music has led me play the album many times. Listeners who enjoy Sade for her lyrics will not be helped much by this review, I’m afraid.
I listen to Sade for rhythm, groove and the sound of her voice. On these grounds Soldiers of Love is a qualified success. The voice is there and for the most part that’s enough. I think I would find it pleasant to hear Sade sing her grocery list. There are more downtempo numbers on Soldiers of Love than I would like which lessens the lilting groove content. This may well reflect the less optimistic view of relationships mentioned above and so may find favor with listeners who are tuned into Sade’s current lyrical focus.
Soldiers of Love is soft pop that is professionally, elegantly and quietly sung, played and recorded. If you are a Sade fan there is much here to like and even if not much is all that different from the CDs she has made in the past, the opportunity to hear new Sade material after an eight year wait may justify buying the album.
“Babyfather” from Soldiers of Love
Robert Forster and Grant McLennan were the creative heart of the Go-Betweens, an Australian band known for their scintillating pop and alt rock. The Go-Betweens released six strong and critically praised albums from 1982 to 1988 and then broke up. They got back together in 2000 and continued producing beautiful and well written pop until McLennan passed away in his sleep from an apparent heart attack in 2006.
From 1988 until they reunited in 2000, Forster and McLennan each released a series of solo albums. Intermission is a two disc set, one devoted to each of the musicians, that collects tracks from these solo albums. The tracks on each of their respective dics were chosen by Forster and McLennan. The discs come packaged with a booklet that contains the lyrics for each song along with the musicians playing on each track.
Fans of the Go-Betweens who don’t have Forster and McLennan’s solo albums will especially enjoy Intermission. The expert songcraft that defined the Go-Betweens is equally evident here. Forster is the more adventuresome songwriter while, at least to my ears, McLennan is the better singer. Together they were brilliant; apart they are each very good in their individual ways.
If you are not familar with the work of Forster and McLennan I would recommend trying a Go-Betweens album before Intermission. We have particularly enjoyed 2003’s Bright Yellow Bright Orange. If you like what you hear you are in the wonderful position of either trying more Go-Betweens or listening to what Forster and McLennan each did on their own. Either way you win.
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.