Review Summary: Neil Finn abandons solo career and reunites his band for another go-around, with mixed (mainly great) results.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
“Time On Earth” really seems to be an appropriate title to relate to Crowded House. We know the members of the band, past and present, have had a very prolific time on earth indeed. Rising from the ashes of Split Enz and coming to formation in 1985, the success of their eponymous debut in 1986, a further decade of albums and touring from here, the famous farewell show in 1996…right up to drummer Paul Hester’s decision to end his time on earth in early 2005. The band’s career has brought forth countless hits, occasional misses, and a legacy, finally, ready to be continued.
Neil Finn, a man Sir Paul McCartney once said was the best songwriter in the world, has reunited with his band after two records with his brother Tim and two records by himself. The line-up circa 2007 features Finn, founding member and bassist Nick Seymour (brother of Hunters & Collectors’ Mark), long serving touring guitarist and now permanent multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart (formerly of Supertramp) and new drummer Matt Sherrod (best known for his work with Beck).
Time On Earth
comes ten years since their departure and fourteen since their last studio recording, Together Alone
. The result? It’s like they’ve never been gone.
While this isn’t groundbreaking pop like their tunes of the past, it’s still a fresh-sounding, smooth, warm and deep record- just like any great set of Crowded House songs should.
Naturally, you can only assume that there will be some songs relating to Hester’s death- the liner notes of the album even dedicate the whole LP to him. It seems that Finn has had problems communicating how he really feels about the situation, as he confesses in the chorus of the surprisingly bright ‘Nobody Wants To’- “Nobody wants to think about it/Nobody wants to talk about it/No-one protects you”. The contrast of bright, almost bubblegum, pop music with lyrics that are comparatively dark and a little pessimistic can also be seen in single ‘She Called Up’. The track is a boppy Beatlesque number with rich acoustic guitar and keyboards, that features lyrics like “It made me so sad/there was nothing I could do” and “Truth is a mortal blow” as it describes the demise of a relationship.
Elsewhere on the record, Finn has penned tracks with former Smiths right-hand man cum Modest Mouse axeman Johnny Marr. The end result comes in two songs- “Even A Child”, which is a jangly, catchy retro kind of song with a fantastic chorus and some nice percussive touches. It feels like it could fit on both Woodface
and a record like All Things Must Pass
by George Harrison. The other result is lead single Don’t Stop Now
, which is a highlight of the album and quite possibly one of the best singles of the year. A simple story of Finn’s wife having trouble with her GPS system in their car is turned into a grandiose pop number with production one critic described as “full-cream”- it’s a happy, soaring number and can be comfortably placed alongside all the other truly great Crowded House singles.
Another group that Finn has written with is Bush-bashing Grammy winners the Dixie Chicks. “Silent House”, the track that came from the collaboration, was also featured on the Chicks’ last album Taking The Long Way Home
. A comparison can’t really be made, as their version remains unheard by my ears, but Finn’s version is poetic and solid in its delivery, making for one of the best songs on the album.
So with all these great things about this album, what is it that stops Time On Earth being on the calibre of classic Crowdies like their eponymous debut or Woodface
Firstly, it seems that the album is weighted heavily towards the front, leaving the songs near the end either boring (“People Are Like Suns”) or just plain weird (“Transit Lounge”). And while Paul Hester’s drumming was never groundbreaking work, it still brought a certain magic to the band’s sound that is unfortunately not really present on many of these songs. Also, Finn’s songwriting, while still strong, has nevertheless lost a lot of its subtlety (come on, the liner notes say “Dedicated To Paul Hester” and there is a track called “You Are The One To Make Me Cry”- two and two, people).
Still, even without reaching the heights of its predecessors (quite possibly something that will never happen again), Time On Earth
is indeed a great album with some really nice touches on production and some exceptional singles. Given a few songs left on the cutting room floor and a rearranged tracklist, this record would have been even better.