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 – Farewell To The World

Farewell To The WorldOn November 24th, 1996, the original lineup of Crowded House (plus longtime touring musician and recent full-time recruit Mark Hart) took its final bow on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, with a crowd of somewhere around 200,000 people making it the biggest concert anywhere in the world that year – ironic when one considers that the whole thing started out with Neil Finn’s suggestion for a humble, small-scale farewell performance for the group’s final public outing…at least in that form.

Farewell To The World has wowed me for a long time, going all the way back to its VHS video release, and I’ve always wondered where in the world the obligatory CD was. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the group’s final performance (as well as to get the Crowded House name back in the public eye just in time for a reunion album and tour), Farewell is finally available on CD and DVD, and it even sidesteps my natural inclination to grumble about re-releases that this edition includes some material that didn’t appear on my now well-worn videotape of the event. Still, this should’ve been on CD years ago.

It’s difficult to overstate just how good a live band Crowded House was. Part of the reason Neil Finn closed the books on Split Enz was to focus on a less “produced” sound that could be more faithfully captured on stage. At least that was the idea before the band teamed up with producer Mitchell Froom, who added churchy organ solos, sampled strings and horns, to name just a few of the touches which meant that the group couldn’t tour without a keyboard wizard in tow. But even with that in mind, the band pulls it off incredibly well here. Songs like “Private Universe” and “Hole In The River,” already more than listenable, take on new life here. (Even with two studio versions of “Private Universe” out there, I consider this performance to be the definitive reading.)

Farewell To The World was already a historical document of sorts, but with Paul Hester’s tragic death, it becomes even moreso. Paul gets his moment in the spotlight during “Sister Madly”, serving as both drummer and comedian, though his impression of Tina Turner falls a little bit flat when robbed of its visual component (file it under “you had to be there”); I’m a little surprised it’s actually on the CD at all. I don’t recall hearing “Italian Plastic” on the previous video release either. To say the whole band is on top form is a bit of an understatement, and I’ve especially got to single out Mark Hart’s luxurious walls of electric guitar feedback, never overpowering but always atmospheric.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Farewell on CD is that it was a bit of, for the lack of a better term, “stealth marketing” presaging the return of Crowded House to the studio and the stage. I’m eagerly awaiting the new album and tour, but I can truthfully see where both camps are coming from (Pro-Crowdies Reunion vs. Get Back Together But Don’t Call It Crowded House Without Paul). As with the reunion itself, it’s too bad that it took a tragedy to finally get this into our CD players.

Order this CD

    Disc one:

  1. Mean To Me (4:11)
  2. World Where You Live (3:33)
  3. When You Come (5:54)
  4. Private Universe (5:35)
  5. Four Seasons In One Day (2:54)
  6. Fall At Your Feet (3:25)
  7. Whispers & Moans (4:30)
  8. Hole In The River (6:47)
  9. Better Be Home Soon (4:43)
  10. Pineapple Head (4:04)
  11. Distant Sun (4:51)
  12. Into Temptation (4:49)
  13. Everything Is Good For You (4:09)
    Disc two:

  1. Locked Out (3:49)
  2. Something So Strong (3:51)
  3. Sister Madly (4:54)
  4. Italian Plastic (3:51)
  5. It’s Only Natural (5:07)
  6. Weather With You (5:22)
  7. There Goes God (4:54)
  8. Fingers Of Love (5:35)
  9. In My Command (4:26)
  10. Throw Your Arms Around Me (2:57)
  11. Don’t Dream It’s Over (6:22)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 2007
Disc one total running time: 59:25
Disc two total running time: 51:08

Split Enz – Rear Enz

Split Enz - Rear EnzCollected here in one easy-to-grab chunk is the entire ’80s career of Split Enz, courtesy of Mushroom Records. Normally I rail against labels reissuing the unpteenth iteration of a band’s greatest hits, but since we’re getting the whole albums here, I can honestly give you hearty recommendations for this set. My big gripe with the five original albums included in this 6-CD box set has nothing to do with sound quality – everything was cleaned up by Enz keyboard whiz Eddie Rayner for this re-release – but everything to do with packaging. When the Split Enz 70s box set was released, there was at least some attempt to retain the original LP artwork, front and back, in some form. Not so here – and I wouldn’t be griping unless this omission involved the best back-cover art ever, Time & Tide‘s photo montage. Okay, so maybe that’s something not everyone’ll see as a problem, but it honked me off a bit. As I noted, had the same effort not been made for the 70s set, I would have shrugged it off more easily.

The real treasure here is the sixth disc, a bonus CD of non-album B-sides, demos and other rarities. Much more entertaining than the first box set’s disc of extras, this one is a solid slice of studio material with no live cuts (and really, why bother when The Living Enz has this part of the band’s career covered so well?). “Fire Drill” is an early Tim/Neil Finn collaboration (with Eddie Rayner getting a credit as well), and makes one wish that the Finn brothers had written more Split Enz material together – it’s definitely hit material. “Next Exit”, written by Tim and released as a stopgap single between albums in 1983, is another guilty favorite of mine – it’s goofy as hell lyrically, and yet still listenable. Other Tim songs – “Big Heart”, “Parasite”, “In The Wars”, “Remember When” – all have their own quirky appeal.

The real fascination here is the chance to witness – in an aural way at any rate – the evolution of songs that would later see release in other forms. Neil’s “I Walk Away” is heard in two early forms (“Your Inspiration” and the surprisingly disco-fied “Love & Success”, though portions of the latter became “Can’t Carry On”), with drastic steps yet to be made in both lyrics and the structure of the song’s melody itself. Even more revealing is Tim’s “Mr. Catalyst”, a jumpy dance tune which would be given entirely new lyrics and held back until his second solo album, Big Canoe, where it became “Spiritual Hunger” – though certain Eddie Rayner-penned instrumental breaks were lifted out of it completely and transplanted to Neil’s “Years Go By” on the final Split Enz album to great effect. Rayner also contributes an instrumental number all his own, “Over Drive”.

4 out of 4And the money shot of the Rear Enz bonus disc? Easy one – Neil’s “Serge”, a song dating back to his pre-Enz days in a band called After Hours (when it was titled Late In Rome). While it’d be easy to say that Rayner’s synth-sampled strings make the song, it’s a lovely example of Neil’s early ballad writing. (And it’s no surprise that it was a fan favorite in Crowded House’s live shows.)

Order this CDThe first five discs in this set are also available separately and have been reviewed previously: True Colours, Corroborree, Time & Tide, Conflicting Emotions and See Ya Round.

  1. Fire Drill (3:11)
  2. Your Inspiration (3:27)
  3. Parasite (2:44)
  4. Next Exit (4:15)
  5. Over Drive (4:17)
  6. Serge (4:06)
  7. In The Wars (4:08)
  8. Love & Success (3:43)
  9. Big Heart (3:41)
  10. Mr. Catalyst (2:59)
  11. Remember When (3:50)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1992
Bonus disc total running time: 44:24