Review Summary: "In the course of history, it all makes sense to me somehow..."
Unlike Time on Earth
, the 2007 "reunion" album for Crowded House which came from what was intended to be a Neil Finn solo record, Intriguer
is a complete recording. It's a vision, if you will, of Crowded House circa 2010 - Finn, original bassist Nick Seymour, long-serving session/touring musician Mick Hart and drummer Matt Sherrod. Perhaps it's for this very reason that Intriguer
- by definition, one who intrigues - feels like such a complete experience. A documentation of a revitalised and invigorated household name, Finn and co. have put their name to what is potentially the finest work under the band's title since 1991's Woodface
. It's an album that's freewheeling, wide-eyed and continually fascinating in its approach to the standard pop-rock affair - one who intrigues, indeed.
The elements of the music that Crowded House are both reaffirmed and redefined, depending entirely on which perspective you take. Finn's evergreen way with words and the gently harmonious voice that accentuates said way remain at the centre of the music, weaving tales of everything from European daytrips ("Amsterdam") to extended-metaphor elephants ("Elephants", no surprises there). The band, however, are thankfully not trying to replicate the sound of their past that brought them to stardom in the eighties and early nineties, as so many recently-reunited bands have been suspect to doing. And really, when the songs - both individually and as a collective - are as good as they are on Intriguer
, why would you bother"
The album is quick to point out that even though Crowded House is still Finn's baby, he's quite comfortable to be handing it around the room. This is, for the first time in many years, a cohesive and altogether Crowded House sound. Perhaps nothing greater defines this than "Saturday Sun", the track which opens Intriguer
and highlights every strength of the new Crowded House. Finn is up-front, experimenting to great effect with a vocoder, while Seymour's fuzz-bass locks into a pounding Matt Sherrod rhythm and Hart's warm, translucent keys flutter amongst the structure. It's a dynamic reintroduction to the band - a reaffirmation of their great songwriting and a redefinition of what constitutes the sound of their hits.
The songs of Intriguer
are mixed in emotion, yet equal in their powers of conveyance. The morose and longing "Isolation", featuring guest vocals from Neil's wife Sharon and extra guitar from their son Liam, is masterful in its downtempo sways and dense emotive prose: "Though I try/To find a sign of another life/I am alone". At the opposite end of the emotive spectrum is the delightful "Either Side of the World". The song creates a gorgeous atmosphere, as rolls of percussion are tucked beneath the tinkering of a grand piano and breathy vocal harmonies that assist the song into its soaring release of endorphins. Perhaps its greatest asset, however, is in its playful deceit when listened to for the first time - just as the song appears to end in a wave of keyboard ambience, Hart's piano reappears and the song returns for an even more joyous rendition than before.
Not only is "Either Side" a standout moment of Intriguer
, it cements both Hart and Sherrod's roles in the band; with both providing the strongest elements of the song. These two aren't just ring-ins anymore - they are part of the family now. It's this togetherness that make the bold "Archer's Arrows" and the charmingly lucid "Amsterdam" such easily-digestible and effortlessly smooth listening experiences. The latter prides itself on a practical infestation of vocal hooks as Seymour's slinking basslines explore the song's structural maze, while the latter is the closest we'll probably ever get to the band's vintage balladry from the easy-going territory; all pitch-perfect harmonies and studio-reverb pleasantry.
Perhaps the fortune that a record such as Intriguer
exists can be summed up with the lyrics of the upbeat "Twice If You're Lucky". "These are the times that only come once in your life," sings a spritely Finn, "or twice if you're lucky." Consider us Crowdies fans incredibly lucky, then - the band has been given a new lease of life, and it's increasingly evident with every listen to Intriguer
that they are not taking it for granted. Don't dream it's over - Intriguer
is a dream come true.