Crowded House – Afterglow (Deluxe Edition)

Released several years after the breakup of the original lineup of Crowded House, Afterglow was a collection of songs that had been relegated to B-sides, to soundtracks, and sometimes to the cutting room floor, never making it to an album but becoming a favorite in the band’s live show. There was material concurrent with all four of the band’s studio albums at the time, and it was something of a bittersweet revelation of how prolific the band was.

But if the original release was a fond reminder of that, the deluxe expanded 2-CD edition is a jaw-dropping revelation. It was known that, after the departure of Paul Hester from the drum seat, an attempt was made to soldier onward with Peter Jones, who had toured with the band after Hester’s abrupt mid-tour exit in 1994. Jones was heard on drums on the original Afterglow‘s incredibly atmospheric track “Help Is Coming”, so obvious some recording was done with him. But the biggest surprise of the second disc is a stretch of material revealing just how much was recorded with Jones – a series of songs that basically amount to an album side. So yes, the deluxe edition of Afterglow brings us half of a Crowded House album that could have been, and really should have been, because the studio demos are so polished – and just as atmospheric as “Help Is Coming” – that they’re sharper than some bands’ final studio masters, and they reveal a band that could very well have continued despite the unplanned personnel change.

After Neil Finn’s home demos of such songs as “Instinct” and “Everything Is Good For You”, the Finn/Seymour/Hart/Jones lineup returns with “Anthem”, a song Finn unearthed from the archives as a charity single a few years earlier, and while it lacks the polish of a finished track, it does show an arrangement that’s been worked out an honed, complete with vocal harmonies. The next track by this post-Together Alone lineup is even more surprising, featuring Mark Hart singing lead on a song that he wrote, “I Don’t Know You”. Again, the song is presented in a somewhat rough state, but one with a lot of promise. Hart eventually reclaimed “I Don’t Know You” for his solo album Nada Sonata, but there’s something stripped-down, bluesy, and incredibly catchy about the Crowded House rendition that may well make it superior to Hart’s final studio version. This should’ve been a single, though one wonders how a single without Finn’s voice (or writing credit) front and center might have been able to navigate the band’s complex internal politics.

Even more songs follow, including the trippy “A Taste Of Something Divine”, which could almost be in late ’90s U2’s wheelhouse rather than what anyone would’ve been expecting from Crowded House. If this is what the band could’ve accomplished with Jones on drums, it’s kind of a glimpse into an alternate universe where Together Alone was followed by even edgier, more out-there changes in style.

Following a nice, folksy rendition of “Spirit Of The Stairs” (a favorite in the Crowdies’ live set), this lineup drops one last surprise with a hard-hitting rendition of “Loose Tongue”, a song which eventually migrated to Finn’s first solo album, 1998’s Try Whistling This. Upon hearing that album in 1998, I remember asking myself “Why was it necessary to break up Crowded House to do this album?”, and this version of “Loose Tongue” really brings that question back. There was very little of Try Whistling This that couldn’t have been done by the full Crowded House lineup.

But the alternate timeline in which Crowded House with Peter Jones in tow ventures into more adventurous musical territory ends there; the rest of disc two is rounded out with the three “new” songs from the 1996 greatest hits album, “Instinct”, “Not The Girl You Think You Are”, and “Everything Is Good For You”, all of them “safer”, more traditional Crowded House songs with 4 out of 4Mitchell Froom at the mixing board and Paul Hester on drums.

The musical equivalent of deleted scenes is what Afterglow was always about, but the expanded edition offers a truly eye-opening glimpse into what could have been if Together Alone had been but the beginning of an experimental phase, and not the end of one. Very few expanded reissues of existing albums justify the double-dip like this one does.

Order this CDDisc One

  1. I Am In Love (4:37)
  2. Sacred Cow (3:36)
  3. You Can Touch (3:45)
  4. Help Is Coming (4:48)
  5. I Love You Dawn (2:33)
  6. Dr. Livingston (3:56)
  7. My Tellys’ Gone Bung (3:10)
  8. Private Universe (4:07)
  9. Lester (2:19)
  10. Anyone Can Tell (3:35)
  11. Recurring Dream (3:23)
  12. Left Hand (2:57)
  13. Time Immemorial (4:06)

Disc Two

  1. I Am In Love (Home Demo) (2:07)
  2. Instinct (Home Demo) (2:03)
  3. Spirit Of The Stairs (Home Demo) (3:39)
  4. I’m So Scared Of Losing I Can’t Compete (Home Demo) (2:11)
  5. Everything Is Good For You (Home Demo) (3:14)
  6. Not The Girl You Think You Are (Home Demo) (3:00)
  7. Anthem (3:31)
  8. I Don’t Know You (Studio Demo) (3:40)
  9. A Taste Of Something Divine (Studio Demo) (4:14)
  10. Spirit Of The Stairs (Studio Demo) (4:55)
  11. Loose Tongue
  12. Rough Mix (3:51)
  13. Instinct (3:06)
  14. Everything Is Good For You (3:52)
  15. Not The Girl You Think You Are (4:08)

Released by: Capitol Records
Release date: November 18, 2016
Disc one running time: 46:51
Disc two running time: 47:31

[…]

Crowded House – Woodface (Deluxe Edition)

Since the album’s original release in 1991, the long and twisted road that led to Woodface – Crowded House’s third studio album and arguably the point at which all future Finn Brothers joint efforts took root – has become much more illuminated. From a lengthy stretch of “nice, but we don’t hear a single” conversations with studio heads, to the temporary firing of founding bassist Nick Seymour, to the equally temporary hiring of Neil Finn’s older brother Tim, there’s enough story behind this album alone to power a couple of episodes of VH-1’s Behind The Music, if indeed that show was still being made.

As revealed in Chris Bourke’s warts-and-all band biography Something So Strong (1997), frustrations during the songwriting and recording process led Neil Finn to feel that Seymour wasn’t sparking joy creatively, so the bassist was shown to the door and replacements were auditioned, all of which finally convinced Finn that his angst had been mislaid at Seymour’s feet, opening the door for the band to snap back to its original lineup. The songs recorded without Seymour were put on the shelf; they’d wind up in the live setlist, sure, but the recordings went unheard by the vast majority of us. A few of them surfaced on the post-breakup compilation Afterglow, but the others were a mystery until now, unless you’d happened to hear them in concert. Between the tracks that made it to Afterglow and the bonus disc here, it’s now possible to piece together the original, Tim-less version of Woodface if you’re so inclined.

Spoiler: Tim-free Woodface really wouldn’t have been a bad album. Many of Neil Finn’s rejects are superior to some acts’ number one singles. “My Legs Are Gone” and “The Fields Are Full Of Your Kind” may not be classics on the same level as “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, but they’re worthy additions to the Crowdies’ catalogue, and they’re both incredibly catchy. Another memorable tune that was waiting in the wings is the surprisingly well-developed demo “I May Be Late”, whose harmonies might make you think that it’s a leftover from the Finn brothers’ songwriting sessions, but it was a song written solely by Neil, who apparently deemed it unworthy. Tim-free Woodface would’ve been a very guitar-oriented album that might have needed to lean a bit less on the very “produced” sound that emerged.

Also in the “surprisingly well-developed demo” category are early versions of “She Goes On” and “As Sure As I Am”, both of which seem like they’re a mere stone’s throw from the final studio versions, the latter exhibiting some significant lyric changes. The same can be said for “You Got Me Going”, an early version of “Sacred Cow”, one of the Woodface rejects that wound up on Afterglow. “Be My Guest” and “Burnt Out Tree” are home demos from that period when Neil was trying to write the entire album himself, and while they seem like they each have the germ of something interesting, they evidently ran out of time. A real surprise among the pre-Tim material is “Creek Song / Left Hand”, a fully polished studio version of a known song with a very different lyrical/verse structure, with the “Left Hand” portion being the only recognizable part. “Left Hand” is also part of the Afterglow tracklist, though I think I like the tune of this version better, but not necessarily the lyrics. But perhaps the most unfathomable, glad-they-left-that-on-the-cutting-room-floor specimen is an early rehearsal recording of “Fall At Your Feet”, which combined the verses of “You Got Me Going”/”Sacred Cow” with the chorus of “Fall At Your Feet”. This is what demos are for: to find out what is and isn’t working. (This combination wasn’t working.)

Paul Hester’s home demo of “Italian Plastic” is a particularly fascinating listen, as that’s one of the songs that ended up being “very produced” in its final form on Woodface, and since Hester’s no longer with us to offer any hints on what his original intentions were, this demo is the only clue we have.

Much of the rest of the bonus material was recorded circa 1989 by Neil and Tim Finn, with Hester on drums, as home demos for the Finn Brothers album that was eventually subsumed into Woodface. These are equally fascinating, with “Weather With You”, “There Goes God”, “Four Seasons In One Day”, “All I Ask”, and “How Will You Go” shining as the best examples of these. Also interesting are songs such as “It’s Only Natural” and “Chocolate Cake”, which are far less polished musically and lyrically than the aforementioned tunes, and yet the core of each song didn’t change that much between Neil’s home studio and the final studio recording, which may be why those two songs wound up with the level of production that they did: to disguise those very deficiencies. “Catherine Wheel” is here in demo form, though it would have to wait until Together Alone to make its appearance, and I think the demo makes a strong case for the argument that this song was much better with Youth’s production than it would’ve been with Mitchell Froom’s, especially as Woodface was, in a few places, lumbered with the most gimmicky production of any of the original lineup’s albums. The bonus disc is rounded out with a seven-minute live medley and the full version of “I’m Still Here”, a not-safe-for-work jam from which only an excerpt was heard in the fade-out of the original Woodface.

It’s tempting, and also dangerous, to try to read anything into the bonus disc material (indeed, I’m sure one of Neil’s favorite 4 out of 4hobbies is listening to people try to psychoanalyze him on the basis of Bourke’s tell-all book). But I think that a lot of the creative sturm und drang early in Woodface‘s development was down to frustration over what seemed to be the commercial failure of its immediate predecessor, Temple Of Low Men, and a lot of label pressure to just obediently crank out “Don’t Dream It’s Over II: Froom Hammond Organ Solo Boogaloo”. Listening to the original Woodface tracklist, as revealed on both this expanded reissue and Afterglow, I hear an album that would’ve been fine. Perhaps not on a level with Temple Of Low Men or the debut album, but not a stinker. And listening back to some of the more gimmicky production poured into the final mix of Woodface from a distance of 28 years, what I really find myself thinking is: maybe what the world – and Crowded House – really needed was Woodface a la Youth. I find myself taking issue not with the songs, but with the production.

Order this CD

    Disc 1 – original album:

  1. Chocolate Cake (4:02)
  2. It’s Only Natural (3:32)
  3. Fall at Your Feet (3:18)
  4. Tall Trees (2:19)
  5. Weather with You (3:44)
  6. Whispers and Moans (3:39)
  7. Four Seasons in One Day (2:50)
  8. There Goes God (3:50)
  9. Fame Is (2:23)
  10. All I Ask (3:55)
  11. As Sure as I Am (2:53)
  12. Italian Plastic (3:39)
  13. She Goes On (3:15)
  14. How Will You Go (4:14)
    Disc 2 – bonus tracks:

  1. Burnt Out Tree (Home Demo) (1:36)
  2. I May Be Late (Home Demo) (3:06)
  3. She Goes On (Home Demo) (3:13)
  4. As Sure As I Am (Home Demo) (2:37)
  5. My Legs Are Gone (Studio Demo) (4:33)
  6. You Got Me Going (Home Demo) (3:23)
  7. Italian Plastic (Home Demo) (2:54)
  8. Be My Guest (Home Demo) (2:03)
  9. Weather With You (Home Demo) (3:08)
  10. Chocolate Cake (Home Demo) (3:50)
  11. How Will You Go (Home Demo) (2:46)
  12. It’s Only Natural (Home Demo) (3:21)
  13. Four Seasons In One Day (Home Demo) (2:42)
  14. There Goes God (Home Demo) (2:43)
  15. Catherine Wheel (Home Demo) (3:00)
  16. All I Ask (Home Demo) (2:43)
  17. Fields Are Full Of Your Kind (3:29)
  18. Creek Song / Left Hand (3:04)
  19. Fall At Your Feet (Rehearsal Early Version) (3:22)
  20. The Burglar’s Song (Medley) – Around The UK In 7 Minutes (Live) (7:21)
  21. I’m Still Here (Full Version) (2:19)

Released by: Capitol Records
Release date: 2016
Disc one total running time: 48:06
Disc two total running time: 1:07:03

Crowded House – Intriguer

Crowded House - IntriguerThe announcement that Crowded House was getting back together was nothing short of a major surprise, and the first album following that announcement was a strange mix that started life as Neil Finn’s third solo album and really only included a handful of songs actually played by the reconstituted lineup of the band. Single selection was an even more awkward and political thing: strong songs were passed over in favor of those few that included the full lineup. The new album, Intriguer, has no such issues: the pre-publicity points out that the entire album emerged from band jams, and every track features the new lineup of Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Matt Sherrod. Oddly enough, though, the result winds up sounding more like a Finn solo album than a Crowded House album, though at this point it’s probably a given that Finn solo is interchangeable with Crowded House at any given point, sort of like Jeff Lynne = ELO these days.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad album, not by a long stretch. And that’s also not to say that the Crowdies’ sound has ever been frozen in amber: the densely atmospheric Together Alone was a culture shock after the first three Mitchell Froom-produced albums. Intriguer is produced by Finn with Wilco producer Jim Scott, and the result winds up being neither as timeless as the Froom years, nor quite as adventurous as Together Alone. As with 2007’s Time On Earth and its lead single, this album is led by a rather unadventurous single, “Saturday Sun” – not a bad song, but not really attention-grabbing musically or stylistically.

Things get much more interesting with the third track, “Amsterdam”, which laments the city’s infamous reputation as a place where morality gets put on hold, in the form of a pleasant if downbeat ballad. The following track, “Either Side Of The World”, is very off-the-beaten-path for Crowded House, resembling – more than anything – “Paradise (Wherever You Are)” from the first Finn Brothers album. It’s got a jaunty tropical beat in which Sherrod really comes into his own at the drums – it’s a song that I can’t imagine Paul Hester playing, at least not this way. It’s odd that my favorite Crowded House songs these days sound nothing like what most people envision (i.e. Froom’s Hammond organ breaks) when they think of Crowded House. “Either Side” is an anthem to monogamy which goes more than skin-deep on the subject – not exactly a frequent topic of modern song lyrics.

“Isolation” seems to have been inspired by the pacing and arrangements of classic 1950s rock ballads, and is the second song to feature vocal contributions from Finn’s wife Sharon. Straight-ahead rocker “Twice If You’re Lucky” is probably the closest Intriguer comes to the early Crowded House sound, and it burrows its way into your subconscious quickly, along with the bittersweet “Even If”. But the experimentation is by no means a bad thing: the glue that holds every song together is Neil Finn’s rock-solid songwriting. (As legend would have it, when asked during an interview 4 out of 4what it’s like to be the greatest songwriter alive, Paul McCartney declined to answer on the grounds that Finn should hold that title. While I haven’t been able to source this oft-quoted interview, I’ll just settle for saying: ’nuff said.) No matter how “exotic” the style becomes, the songs at least have that going for them. “Even If” and “Elephants” deliver a double dose of wistful poignancy to slowly wind things to a close – which just means it’s time to start from the beginning again. Intriguer may take a little time to grow on you, but rest assured, it will.

Order this CD

  1. Saturday Sun (3:26)
  2. Archer’s Arrows (4:04)
  3. Amsterdam (3:34)
  4. Either Side Of The World (4:35)
  5. Falling Dove (4:35)
  6. Isolation (4:37)
  7. Twice If You’re Lucky (3:33)
  8. Inside Out (3:19)
  9. Even If (4:02)
  10. Elephants (4:30)

Released by: Fantasy
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 40:15

[…]

Tim Finn – North, South, East, West…: Anthology

North, South, East, WestIt’s something of an understatement to say that Tim Finn has earned a best-of album by now. The only catch is that it’s taken so long that there’s probably a whole generation in New Zealand – never mind everywhere else – asking “Tim who?” Hence, North, South, East, West… has a bit of an identity crisis: it’s not just a Tim Finn compilation, but crams in the better part of a best of Split Enz best-of album and selections from Crowded House (well, after a fashion) and the Finn Brothers, in addition to the obligatory new songs designed to hook in everyone who’s already bought all of Tim’s previous work.

With that in mind, you have to forgive North, South, East, West…‘s inherent schizophrenia. The one common thread linking all of this very disparate material is Finn’s extremely versaitle voice. Whether it’s the very orchestrated sound of Split Enz or the relatively stripped-down guitar wash of Crowded House or the Finn Brothers, Finn’s voice cuts through the whole mix every time. His solo work has darted back and forth between more ornamented, Enz-like songs and more acoustic fare, so even if you set aside his non-solo projects, there’s no one sound dominating the entire 2-CD set.

The obligatory new material includes songs we haven’t heard before, and new recordings of songs that we have. Finn covers Split Enz’s “Stuff And Nonsense” as a duet with Missy Higgins, and gives Crowded House’s “It’s Only Natural” a similar treatment with Bic Runga riding shotgun. He also covers the Crowded House hit-in-some-parts-of-the-world “Weather With You” with Neil and Liam Finn. Also included are very stripped-down new versions of “So Deep” (from his very-produced, dance-rhythm-heavy second solo album Big Canoe) and Crowded House’s “How Will You Go”, and an instrumental piano cover of a portion of Split Enz’s “Poor Boy”. I felt that a partial cover was a little bit of a cheat (especially when it’s done so well), and “So Deep” already wasn’t my favorite song from Big Canoe, and it doesn’t really benefit from the toned-down rethink. I’m much more partial to “How Will You Go” in its original form, so this new recording, relieved of most of its beautiful vocal harmonies, certainly doesn’t supplant the original. It’s interesting to note that none of the Crowded House songs on this collection are the original recordings – all of them are re-interpretations.

Fortunately, the genuinely new tracks are a treat: “Into The Water” and especially the jumpy “Light Years Away” are up there with the best of Finn’s output over the past decade, and “Nothing Unusual” winds up being a kind of theme song for the whole compilation: it borrows the main riff from “Many’s The Time” and namechecks Enz chestnuts like “Maybe” and “Malmsbury Villa”, and the lyrics talk about the inspiration for songs in general – it’s a song about when one writes and performs songs, a bit of a meta-song, and a pleasant one at that.

Listening back to the songs chosen from Finn’s large body of solo work, I have to say that generally, the songs are very well-chosen; it seems like Big Canoe and Finn’s self-titled 1989 album were buried for some reason (and I still count the latter among his very best solo work), and his work from the musical stage production Steel City isn’t represented at all, but as many labels as Finn has 3 out of 4been on over the years there may be issues there (which may also explain the Crowded House oddity noted above). Once the compilation moves on to music from 1993’s Before & After, things tend to line up, more or less, with the Tim Finn best-of mixes that I’ve been creating for myself for years. Considering how hard it’s become to find some of Tim Finn’s material, this compilation is probably a good idea for those curious about his work.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. I See Red performed by Split Enz (3:17)
  2. My Mistake performed by Split Enz (3:02)
  3. Poor Boy performed by Split Enz (3:23)
  4. Six Months In A Leaky Boat performed by Split Enz (4:23)
  5. I Hope I Never performed by Split Enz (4:36)
  6. Dirty Creature performed by Split Enz (4:01)
  7. Maybe performed by Split Enz (2:53)
  8. Stuff And Nonsense performed by Tim Finn & Missy Higgins (3:27)
  9. Fraction Too Much Friction (4:10)
  10. Made My Day (3:20)
  11. So Deep (4:15)
  12. How’m I Gonna Sleep (3:52)
  13. Not Even Close (4:18)
  14. Many’s The Time (4:20)
  15. Persuasion (3:52)
  16. Into The Water (3:14)
  17. Nothing Unusual (4:02)
    Disc Two

  1. Weather With You performed by Tim, Neil & Liam Finn (3:43)
  2. How Will You Go (2:59)
  3. It’s Only Natural performed by Tim Finn & Bic Runga (3:44)
  4. Underwater Mountain (3:55)
  5. Dead Man (4:04)
  6. What You’ve Done (3:43)
  7. Subway Dreaming (4:16)
  8. Angels’ Heap performed by the Finn Brothers (2:50)
  9. Disembodied Voices performed by the Finn Brothers (3:37)
  10. Luckiest Man Alive performed by the Finn Brothers (3:59)
  11. Winter Light (4:11)
  12. Couldn’t Be Done (2:53)
  13. Astounding Moon (3:36)
  14. Straw To Gold (3:58)
  15. Out Of This World (3:01)
  16. The Saw And The Tree (4:05)
  17. Light Years Away (3:09)
  18. Poor Boy (instrumental) (1:31)

Released by: Capitol / EMI
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 64:25
Disc two total running time: 63:14

8 Bit Weapon & ComputeHer – It’s A Chiptune Holiday!

It's A Chiptune Holiday!A fun little EP released just in time for the holiday season, It’s A Chiptune Holiday! is a selection of traditional Christmas music, done in old-school video game style with 8 Bit Weapon’s usual arsenal of custom-programmed classic console sound chips.

“Deck The Halls” kicks things off with harmonized vocoder vocals – it’s like a cheerful choir of Christmas-caroling robots. “Jingle Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” also have robotic vocals, though the latter has a kind of strange diction that makes me wonder if it really is a voice synthesizer as opposed to a human singer’s processed vocals.

The instrumentals are a treat too; “O Christmas Tree” is given a polyphonic arrangement that makes it sound like a “win” tune from Pole Position; “Ave Maria” actually comes closest to what I was expecting to hear from an EP of 8-bit Christmas tunes.

4 out of 4The only problem with It’s A Chiptune Holiday! is that it’s just too short! I instantly thought of about a dozen other Christmas tunes that would sound great with the 8 Bit Weapon treatment; I realize that it’d mean venturing into non-public-domain territory, but I can just about hear a chiptune version of “Christmastime Is Here” from Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas special soundtrack in my head.

The good news is, I hear they’ve already scheduled Christmas for next year – you’ve got 12 months to get on the case, 8 Bit Weapon!

Order this CD

  1. Deck The Halls (Nos Galan) (1:52)
  2. Hanukkah (Festival Of Lights) (1:01)
  3. O Christmas Tree (O Chanukah) (1:31)
  4. Jingle Bells (One Horse Open Sleigh) (1:14)
  5. Joy To The World (2:09)
  6. Greensleeves (What Child Is This) (1:51)
  7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (2:13)
  8. Ave Maria (The Well-Tempered Clavier) (3:25)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 15:16

Wendy Carlos – Digital Moonscapes

Wendy Carlos - Digital MoonscapesHaving given her new studio its shakedown cruise during the recording
sessions for the score of Disney’s inscrutably futuristic 1982 movie Tron, composer Wendy Carlos turned to a new challenge – recording a new series of compositions, directly from digital synthesizers with no samples, microphones or any other acoustic recording techniques, fine-tuned until it souded not completely unlike a new piece for orchestra. Jokingly attributing the sounds to the “LSI Philharmonic” (for the large-scale intregrated chips in her new digital synths and recording gear), Carlos created what was almost a modern-day companion piece to Holst’s The Planets, inspired by the then-recent pictures sent back from Jupiter and Saturn by NASA’s Voyager space probes.

Given that my interest in Carlos’ work started with Tron, I’m almost embarrassed to make the comparison, but it must be made – Digital Moonscapes, recorded immediately after the score from that movie, does indeed sound like it could be music from a lost Tron sequel. (And careful listening makes this similarity more than just a coincidence: the piece devoted to Jupiter’s restless volcanic moon Io is actually a rejected cue for Tron‘s light cycle sequence; listening to “Io” side by side with “Light Cycles” from the second volume of Carlos’ Rediscovering Lost Scores reveals the two pieces to be one and the same.) As much as I hate to fall back on a banal comparison, if you liked the music from Tron, Digital Moonscapes is right up your alley.

Trying to get away from that comparison for a moment, Digital Moonscapes is interesting on its own, in some places a little more conventionally classical than that movie soundtrack I keep comparing it to. The other comparison I’ve made, to Holst, deals only with the subject matter. Nowhere in her own liner notes does Wendy Carlos try to draw that comparison, and we’re talking about two completely different kinds of music. As much effort as was put into making Digital Moonscapes sound fully orchestral, there’s no mistaking it for anything but synthesizer music, and ’80s synthesizer music at that. This CD release postdates the original LP by nearly 20 years, though I have an enormous amount of respect for the decision to not tweak the original recordings with more modern technology, because it has a unique character all its own (though I’m a little selfishly disappointed that the thought didn’t occur to add new Rating: 3 out of 4material to accompany Voyager 2’s discoveries at Uranus and Neptune). In tracks such as “Titan”, “Europa”, and portions of the three-part “Cosmological Impressions” suite, Carlos comes dangerously close to achieving that orchestral sound.

It’ll never shake its distinctly ’80s sound, but in some ways, that’s the charm of Digital Moonscapes, and that’s enough to get a recommendation from me.

    Order this CD in the StoreCosmological Impressions

  1. Genesis (7:12)
  2. Eden (4:30)
  3. I.C. (Intergalactic Communications) (3:41)

    Moonscapes

  4. Luna (8:20)
  5. Phobos and Deimos (3:28)
  6. Ganymede (4:25)
  7. Europa (4:19)
  8. Io (4:26)
  9. Callisto (4:29)
  10. Rhea (1:51)
  11. Titan (3:46)
  12. Iapetus (5:50)

Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 1984 (re-released on CD in 2003)
Total running time: 47:31

Crowded House – Time On Earth

I’m going to admit up front that it’s very hard not to overanalyze a new Crowded House album. In the decade between the final concert appearance of the band’s original lineup at the Sydney Opera House and this album, there’s been at least one book devoted to peering into the members’ psyche, and then Paul Hester died. It’s really difficult not to try to read something in between the lines lyrically, and in terms of Neil Finn’s motivations for trying to rekindle the Crowded House fire.

With new drummer Matt Sherrod aboard for the ride, and one song co-written with the Dixie Chicks, it’s safe to say that Time On Earth is not a revisitation of the “Don’t Dream It’s Over” stylebook. And that’s not a bad thing; the original Crowded House’s final studio album, Together Alone, was endearing precisely because it was such a daring departure from the sound that had evolved over the first three albums produced by Mitchell Froom. As is generally known now, Time On Earth began its life as Finn’s third solo album, and he reunited with Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour to record some tracks in the wake of Hester’s death. Midway through the recording, the project went from “Finn solo plus Seymour” to the return of Crowded House.

“Nobody Wants To” and the first single, “Don’t Stop Now”, however, stay on safe territory – they’re not a million miles away from the less daring tracks on Together Alone, and certainly not as “out there” as some of the cuts from Finn’s first post-Crowded House solo album. “She Called Up” is stylistically structured a little bit like Together Alone‘s “In My Command” (or the Finn B-side “She Comes Scattered”), and is the one song that reminds the most of Finn’s Split Enz-era songwriting. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Finn’s Beatlesque sensibilities come to the fore in “Pour Le Monde”, which sounds to me almost like Double Fantasy-era Lennon. It’s a lovely, wistful anthem of a song with a sumptuous orchestral backing – not something I’d really expect from Crowded House, but nice nonetheless. “Heaven That I’m Making” also smacks a little bit of Lennon, but reminds me even more of Finn solo tunes like “Secret God”.

It’s hard not to hold up “A Sigh” and “Transit Lounge” as an indication of where Crowded House could be headed if this new lineup records another album. They’re not exactly groundbreaking in and of themselves, but more than anything else on Time On Earth, these two tracks especially break out of the “safe” mold from which the rest of the album seems to be cut. The former is filled with atmospheric guitar effects, while the latter has some very strange effects for the first minute or so before settling into its real melody, which features female vocalists and sounds almost ELO-esque in places. “Silent House” is another standout, co-written by Finn with the Dixie Chicks, taking a bold step closer to Together Alone‘s unapologetic distorted-guitar jams. I think I say this at least once for every album in which Neil Finn is involved, but why this wasn’t the lead single, I’ll never know.

The question of “which songs are about Paul?” was ringing through my head while listening to Time On Earth (and before reading any liner notes), and while “You Are The One To Make Me Cry” (an interesting counterpoint to Woodface‘s “All I Ask”), the surprisingly upbeat “English Trees” and the oustanding “People Are Like Suns” seem to address that tragic event most directly, in listening to the entire album, I think it’s probably safest to say that Hester’s suicide and the resulting emotional turmoil left in his wake informs the entire project from beginning to end. Listened to in one sitting, there’s a melancholy that infuses even the seemingly upbeat songs. And that’s not a bad thing – those of us who have followed Crowded House since before “Don’t Dream It’s Over” nearly topped the U.S. charts in 1987 are also missing Paul Hester, and it’s an interesting sort of shared catharsis between audience and artist that is needed on both sides of the equation. I’d love to make it to one of the live shows to see how much of this catharsis bubbles to the surface with the new material on stage.

4 out of 4Time On Earth may not sound like a bundle of laughs, with a decidedly not-light-hearted heaviness weaving through much of its material, but it’s some beautiful music, and hopefully a sign that the house can stay crowded for more albums yet to come. Nick Seymour and, on those songs where he appears, Mark Hart (who folks still seem to forget was a full-time regular member of the band when last we left it) weave their magic and prove that there is, indeed, a difference between a new Crowded House album and a new Neil Finn album. I’d love to see them plow a path off the beaten road as they did with Together Alone, and not necessarily even in the same direction. Welcome back, guys.

Order this CD

  1. Nobody Wants To (4:10)
  2. Don’t Stop Now (3:54)
  3. She Called Up (2:53)
  4. Say That Again (5:21)
  5. Pour Le Monde (5:10)
  6. Even A Child (3:57)
  7. Heaven That I’m Making (3:56)
  8. A Sigh (3:17)
  9. Silent House (5:52)
  10. English Trees (3:43)
  11. Walked Her Way Down (4:17)
  12. Transit Lounge (4:25)
  13. You Are The One To Make Me Cry (3:43)
  14. People Are Like Suns (3:52)

Released by: ATO
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 58:30