Crowded House evokes many fond memories for me, such as the first date with my then future wife, which included seeing their second Los Angeles performance at the Palace in 1987. I have long thought that they were one of the ten best bands post New Wave era; and that Neil Finn is one of the greatest singer/songwriters to ever grace a stage or recording studio. In their decade together as a band, they produced four remarkable albums that have played countless times on my turntable and CD player.
Sometimes good things are born out of tragic events. As a drummer who admired Paul Hester’s creative work, I was saddened and pissed off when I heard he had taken his own life in March of 2005. Though the band suffered the loss of his integral contributions, I am pleased that Nick Seymour and Finn decided to record a new album and are currently performing tour dates in Europe, Australia and North America.
Time On Earth begins with the melodic if not somber “Nobody Wants To,” a song about depression, the sadness of loss and the danger of ignoring the personal feelings that follow. Though the arrangement sounds a bit stark, it is immediately evident that Seymour’s thoughtful bass work and backing vocals are made tailor made for Finn’s darkly adult power pop. “She Called Up” offers a happy melody in spite of the fact that the lyrics are about receiving dreadful news. The song has an accessible Split Enz influence mixed with the satirical qualities that permeated Crowded House’s Woodface album. After hearing “Say That Again” a few times, I began to appreciate the lyrical quality and subtle beauty of the melody. As welcome as Seymour’s contributions are on this song, it is conversely obvious that the loss of Hester’s powerful drumming has left a deep vacuum in the sound of the reunited band. For my money, the percussion contributions of former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod and session players Rikki Gooch and Ethan Johns never rises above adequate.
Among several of the standout tracks that I have come to expect from the band, “Even a Child” is a moving deliberation about mortality that offers this interesting passage: “The stories left to write/ the ebb and flow of my life / to justify the end / I’ll do everything I can / and it’s a dangerous game / I heard you tell someone that you don’t care // But I don’t believe the message / and when you sing about love / What are you thinking of?”
On this song, Finn crafts the quintessential A-B-C composition with a strong verse, chorus and exceptional bridge part. As a balladeer, Finn knows few peers and the outstanding “A Sigh” owns all the ethereal qualities that he has so often showcased during his prolific career. The disc closes with the haunting “People Are Like Suns,” a metaphor for the cycle of existence. The song combines a nearly perfect infusion of melancholy tempered with the knowledge that everything earthly comes to an end.
Brought together first as friends attempting to understand the suicide of their band mate and then as successful musical collaborators, Time On Earth is a very personal album about love and loss. Rather than hit you over the head, Finn skillfully wraps his message about life in nebulous lyrics that doesn’t insult the listener’s intelligence. With only a year of age separating us, I identify with the themes expressed on this record and in the spirit of that message; I offer this quote from Annie Hall: Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”