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Farewell To The World was already a historical document of sorts, but with Paul Hester’s tragic death, it becomes even moreso.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

The Cardigans – Gran Turismo

The Cardigans - Gran TurismoOnce upon a time, it seems like I reviewed an earlier, and extremely popular, album by the Cardigans, and was kinda harsh about it. Didn’t mind the music, but I was even less crazy about the lyrics. I’m not here to say “I changed my mind, I take it back,” but I will fess up that the Cardigans have, perhaps, improved.

Gran Turismo takes the group’s sparse sound into darker territory across the board. This may sound like no big deal, but the effect is amazing – the new sound suits them a whole lot better than the old, and nowhere is this more evident than in Nina Persson’s biting vocals. She still has an angelic, innocent thing going on with her voice, but if ever I got the mental picture of hearing someone sneering while singing, I got it listening to Gran Turismo. More than a few of the lyrics are about screwed-up relationships or surviving them, and there’s a bitter edge to the vocals that simply wasn’t there in earlier material like “Lovefool”. Nor is there anything like “Lovefool”‘s doormat-ish feel – there’s no pleading for someone to “love me, love me, fool me, fool me”; the “character” in some of these song lyrics is not happy about how things have gone. I could see Gran Turismo as a “break-up album.”

Standouts include “New Beginning”, “Hang Around”, the outstanding “Erase/Rewind” (aptly used in the end credits of the Rating: 3 out of 4movie The Thirteenth Floor, and the primary reason I decided to give the Cardigans another try), and the hit single of the piece, “My Favourite Game”. Much of the best material comes early on if you listen to it straight through – there’s a definite sense of the album losing steam by the end. But this new direction for the Cardigans suits them completely – it’s a sound they’re more than capable of pulling off, and I hope they stick with it.

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  1. Paralyzed (4:59)
  2. Erase / Rewind (3:40)
  3. Explode (4:06)
  4. Starter (3:55)
  5. Hanging Around (3:45)
  6. Higher (4:34)
  7. Marvel Hill (4:16)
  8. My Favourite Game (3:40)
  9. Do You Believe (3:21)
  10. Junk Of The Hearts (4:10)
  11. Nil (2:15)

Released by: Polygram
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 42:41

Julee Cruise – The Art Of Being A Girl

Julee Cruise - The Art Of Being A GirlIt’s been a long time since we heard anything out of Julee Cruise – too long. More like a decade, really. Okay, she’s done a few guest appearances, some soundtrack one-offs, and stuff like that, but ten years is a long time between solo projects – long enough for everyone except the most ardent fans to forget. Fortunately, Julee’s got plenty of those – her big exposure came along with a little show called Twin Peaks, something which it seems had nothing but ardent fans.

The Art Of Being A Girl owes less to the ethereal, dreamy style of Twin Peaks or her two previous solo albums than it does to that more recent work. Moby, Hybrid and numerous other acts have engaged Julee’s vocal services in recent years, and she’s become something of a known quantity in techno and especially lounge music circles. It’s that genre that she’s exploring in Art, and that genre from which she draws guests and producers of her own.

To be fair, it’s not the total culture shock that longtime Julee fans might expect. Despite being a bit funky, Art evokes the same smoky feel as Floating Into The Night, but in a slightly more modern sonic setting. It’s not as different as you might think. Truthfully, her Scream soundtrack selection (“If I Survive”) with Hybrid was more of a jarring change than this is.

And yet, there are some major shifts – the little monologues between songs are new (her ruminations on a superficial party crowd leading up to the opening strains of “You’re Staring At Me” are hilarious), and the kind of torchy jazz that made her a hit with Twin Peaks fans is now filtered through some decidedly modern influences – as the label on the shrinkwrap puts it, this CD falls into the categories of “lounge,” “chill-out” and “downtempo” all at the same time (quite a feat). Some of the new directions explored here include almost Siouxsie-ish vocals on “Falling In Love” amd “Three Jack Swing”, and giving any modern R&B diva you care to name a run for their money with the silky “The Fire In Me” (which, unannounced on the track list, also features a modernized take on “Falling”, Julee’s Twin Peaks theme song). At the heart of rating: 4 out of 4many of the songs, though, it’s still the sparing, alluring sound that dates back to her earlier works.

I highly recommend this one to Julee’s old fans, and to the listeners who may not have dug her earlier works – she might just reel you in with this one.

Order this CD

  1. You’re Staring At Me (3:42)
  2. The Orbiting Beatnik (4:28)
  3. Falling In Love… (5:56)
  4. The Art Of Being A Girl (4:57)
  5. Everybody Knows (3:11)
  6. 9th Ave. Limbo (5:05)
  7. Slow Hot Wind (3:57)
  8. Cha Cha In The Dark (4:15)
  9. Shine (4:16)
  10. Beachcomber Voodoo (4:49)
  11. Three Jack Swing (3:53)
  12. The Fire In Me + bonus track Falling (15:27)

Released by: Water Music
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 63:56

Chicago – Greatest Hits, 1982-1989

Chicago - Greatest Hits, 1982-1989I’ve always been a casual fan of Chicago. When you’re growing up and both your mom and your older brother are taking turns cranking up the original Chicago Transit Authority double LP at every opportunity, you learn to like it, or you go nuts.

Okay, maybe I should ditch that intro before the inevitable smart-arse comments come rolling in. In any case, I’ve always been a fan of Chicago, but a fan of old Chicago – before Chicago suffered the same fate as Genesis in the 1980s, that of becoming not much more than a mere backing band for a lead vocalist more concerned with his solo career. The only 80s Chicago I ever owned was a cassette copy of Chicago 16, and that was just because I liked “Niagara Falls”. I felt like a lot of the stuff Chicago was turning out in the early to mid 80s was limp compared to their glorious past.

Then I got this CD dirt cheap, and was reminded – upon hearing “Look Away” – that sometimes I can be a bit harshly judgemental. The truth is, I didn’t know when I was well off with “Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away” and the other early 80s stuff before Chicago suffered yet another paradigm shift into “power ballad” territory.

There are a couple of gems on this Greatest Hits disc spanning Chicago’s dismal chain of radio-friendly hits of the 80s, and sadly “Niagara Falls” isn’t among them. If the strains of “Hard Habit To Break”, “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” and the post-Peter Cetera “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?” sound vaguely similar, it’s no coincidence: by that time in Chicago’s career, a sameness had set in where songwriting, performance and production were concerned. Gone were any traces of what Chicago once was.

Rating: 2 out of 4At least in punchier, well-arranged numbers like “Love Me Tomorrow”, “Stay The Night”, and “If She Would Have Been Faithful…”, as sappy and sugary as they may be, there’s at least some vestige of real Chicago in there. Bits of this collection are okay as stand-alone songs, but don’t listen to it right after the pre-80s Chicago hits compilations – the contrast will drive you nuts.

Order this CD in the Store

  1. Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away (5:08)
  2. Look Away (4:03)
  3. Stay The Night (3:49)
  4. Will You Still Love Me? (5:43)
  5. Love Me Tomorrow (5:01)
  6. What Kind Of Man Would I Be (4:14)
  7. You’re The Inspiration (3:50)
  8. I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love (3:53)
  9. Hard Habit To Break (4:44)
  10. Along Comes A Woman (4:16)
  11. If She Would Have Been Faithful… (3:53)
  12. We Can Last Forever (3:44)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 52:18

Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19

Common Ground: The Voices of Modern Irish Music

Common Ground: The Voices of Modern Irish MusicYou know, I’ll be the first to fess up that I’m not exactly a Thistle & Shamrock Listener (not that it’s a bad show, and not that I don’t like the music). And I’m a little wary of the mania for all things Celtic that has pervaded the underbelly of pop culture for the past decade or so, despite the fact that I’m able to trace my own lineage straight back to Ireland. Something about everyone embracing this culture just because it’s “in” bugs me – and many of the supposedly Celtic musical acts out there aren’t peddling the sound of old Eire, but rather of Enya, whose sound I associate with new age music more than I do anything that sounds distinctly Celtic. But I’ll expound on this soapbox more later. With all my griping, you’re probably wondering why in the world I even bothered with this CD.

The answer is the wonderful second track, “Mary Of The South Seas”, written and performed by Tim and Neil Finn. Aside from their dedicating the song to their mother’s Irish origins, your guess is as good as mine as to why two performers born and raised in New Zealand are on a compilation of “modern Irish music,” but it’s a lovely song all the same.

There are other good reasons to dig this one out, however; Sharon Shannon’s “Cavan Potholes” is a nicely traditional (and simultaneously modern) Celtic-flavored instrumental. Adam Clayton and Bono of U2 fame turn in a low-key number, “Won’t You Be Back Tomorrow”, and Sinead O’Connor turns in “On Raglan Road”. Toward the end of the disc, the tunes become more traditional and the readings become more tongue-in-cheek – I’m thinking primarily of Elvis Costello’s rendition of “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched” here – but in fine Irish tradition, the producers of this compilation probably expected us to have downed a couple of pints by this point, so I’m willing to forgive.

4 out of 4Though I originally bought it for one song by a couple of favorite artists, Common Ground quickly opened my eyes to some more good music. And I’m happy – and perhaps just a touch proud – to say that the whole thing smacks more of real Celtic music than a lot of the product that wears that label these days.

Order this CD

  1. O Bhean A’ti – Maire Brennan (5:13)
  2. Mary Of The South Seas – Tim and Neil Finn (5:08)
  3. Tomorrow – Bono and Adam Clayton (4:36)
  4. Cavan Potholes – Sharon Shannon (4:10)
  5. Help Me To Believe – Paul Brady (5:56)
  6. On Raglan Road – Sinead O’Connor (6:05)
  7. As I Roved Out – Brian Kennedy (4:32)
  8. The Night Before Larry Was Stretched – Elvis Costello (5:09)
  9. Mna Na H-eireann – Kate Bush (2:53)
  10. Whistling Low Errigal – Davy Spillane with Donal Lunny (4:08)
  11. My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland – Andy Irvine (3:36)
  12. Cathain – Liam O’Maonlai (3:27)
  13. Bogie’s Bonnie Belle – Christy Moore (3:18)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 58:11

Other Enz: Split Enz and Beyond

Other Enz: Split Enz and BeyondThis two-disc set of rarities, B-sides, unreleased cuts, soundtrack one-offs and live performances span the whole gamut of the membership of Split Enz over 18 years. From the earliest solo/side projects of former Enzers to recent works, Other Enz is, contrary to what one reviewer says, a very nice find for any Enz fanz or, for that matter, fans of Crowded House or either of the Finn Brothers. Billing it as nothing more than a Split Enz-centric collection almost limits this collection’s appeal too much. Highlights include some early Tim Finn solo tunes, two very hard-to-find Crowded House tunes (a cover of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” from the soundtrack for The Crossing and a live performance of their well-loved cover of Hunters & Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me”), and vastly more obscure items such as solo singles by Noel Crombie, ex-bassist Malcolm Green, and founding guitarist Phil Judd. Offshoot bands such as Citizens’ Band, The Makers, and Schnell Fenster are also represented.

A couple of the tracks (The Swingers’ “A Certain Sound” and Tim Finn’s rough demo of “They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me”) are sourced from recordings that have quite obviously seen better days…but does that really matter when there’s really no other way we’d ever hear them? Overall, Other Enz is very good listening, and sequenced in a logical progression through the years and various band members’ careers. 3 out of 4One also gets a hint, from skimming through the musician credits for each track, how often the former Enzers reunite to collaborate on their latest projects.

Other Enz isn’t just for Split Enz fans. Give it a listen. Be prepared for the bizarre, the amusing, and the stuff that’s not quite ready for prime time. But also be prepared to find something you like.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Split Enz: Shark Attack (2:54)
  2. Split Enz: What’s The Matter With You (4:33)
  3. The Mal Green Sound: Follow Me (2:40)
  4. Noel Crombie: My Voice Keeps Changing On Me (2:49)
  5. Phil Manzanera with Tim Finn: Slow Motion TV (3:13)
  6. Citizen’s Band: The Ladder Song (5:09)
  7. A Ripper Bunch Of Blokes: The Instrumental (6:40)
  8. The Swingers: Certain Sound (3:30)
  9. The Swingers: All Over Town (3:46)
  10. The Swingers: Counting The Beat (3:00)
  11. Phil Judd: Rendezvous (3:47)
  12. Phil Judd: Dictionary Of Love (3:12)
  13. Phil Judd: Forgiveness (2:05)
  14. Tim Finn: They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To ME (2:45)
  15. Tim Finn: Home For My Heart (3:56)
  16. Tim Finn & Philip Judd: Long Hard Road (4:09)
  17. Tim Finn & Philip Judd: Precious Time (3:48)
  18. Tim Finn & Philip Judd: Tai Chi (1:23)
  19. Noel’s Cowards: Fingers Crossed (2:42)
  20. Noel’s Cowards: Just Like You (2:32)
  21. Noel’s Cowards: Cold Shoulder (2:34)
  22. Tim Finn with The Herbs: Parihaka (4:08)
    Disc two

  1. Schnell Fenster: Whisper (3:42)
  2. Schnell Fenster: OK Alright A Huh Oh Yeah (3:56)
  3. The Makers: New Kind Of Blue (4:07)
  4. The Makers: Horizon (3:33)
  5. Tim Finn: Desert Chord / With You I’m Alive (4:54)
  6. Tim Finn: Charlie (4:29)
  7. Tim Finn: Six Months In A Leaky Boat (2:53)
  8. Tim Finn with Richard Thompson: Persuasion (4:40)
  9. Crowded House with Roger McGuinn: Mr. Tambourine Man (2:17)
  10. Crowded House with Roger McGuinn: Eight Miles High (4:57)
  11. Crowded House: She’s Not There (2:38)
  12. Crowded House: Throw Your Arms Around Me (3:52)
  13. Crowded House: One Step Ahead (3:50)
  14. Crowded House: History Never Repeats (3:32)
  15. Finn Brothers: Weather With You demo (3:07)
  16. Finn Brothers: Mary Of The South Seas (5:07)
  17. Yothu Yindi with Neil Finn: Dots On The Shells (3:17)
  18. Eddie Rayner: Sacrè Bleu (6:14)
  19. Largest Living Things: My Time Is Now (5:27)

Released by: Raven
Release date: 1999
Disc one total running time: 76:34
Disc two total running time: 77:07