Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #11: Crowded House - st (1986)

I’m often asked what my favorite album of all-time is. Well, it’s this one.

Even while making such a huge declaration, I struggle to find a reason why that would compel everyone to listen to it. What I’ve decided is that it sounds like home to me. Not my house, or where I was raised, or even the era in which I grew up. It sounds like home because the sound, the melodies, the songs, the voices and instruments are so comfortable and familiar.

Lead singer Neil Finn gets my vote for the greatest songwriter in rock history. Well, him and Paul McCartney. The reason being, he/they seem to have a wellspring of catchy, familiar, yet fresh melodies inside of them that never dries up. Nothing is flashy or edgy or on the fringe. It’s so simple and honest and it rings true every single time. That is an urgently underappreciated talent, especially in today’s music environment. His contemporaries are not other rockers, they are Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Henry Mancini, and Irving Berlin. Artists that contribute to the canon of musical history. If Neil has one weakness, I would have to say it’s his lyrics. They are not always as universal as the melodies are. But, that’s a small complaint.

Of course, everybody knows “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. Almost no one seems to know it by name until you say the “hey now, hey now” part and then the light goes on. The album had one other top 10 hit, the far less enduring “Something So Strong” and that’s it for hits from Crowded House. A few others flirted with the top 40 over the next seven years, but nothing quite cracked it, leaving CH with the moniker of “two-hit wonder”. This is another one of life’s true travesties.

This album itself tossed out three other singles, the comparatively dark “World Where You Live” and the brighter “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” and "Mean To Me". None found the masses, but they’re equally as good as the hits and serve to make the spectrum of songs on the album more robust. Adding to the depth is producer Mitchell Froom. His distinctive and immediately identifiable style has since become really stagnant, claustrophobic, and redundant (sadly, Neil continues to use him on his solo albums, much to my chagrin), but it was fresh and powerful in ’86. Some complain it makes the songs too busy with an organ here and some brass there, but I think it gives it heft and greater reasons to revisit the album since sounds sometimes surprise and come out of nowhere. Considering CH is just a trio, Froom becomes a crucial fourth member that helps round out and fill up the sound and spaces. You don’t always want that from a producer, but it works here big time.

So here it is, the gold standard of contemporary pop music. And if it weren’t you’d never be able to convince me otherwise.
One sad postscript. Drummer Paul Hester committed suicide in 2005, breaking my heart. CH put on a great live show, full of audience banter and loads of comedy. Paul was often the biggest clown of all. He was actually a really sad person behind the act.

The Nugget: Man, this is next to impossible. “That’s What I Call Love is the one I probably play most often, and "World..." has been creeping up recently, but today I’m feeling “Hole In The River” (I prefer the album version to this live one, but it's all that's out there). It’s definitely a Froom driven track, a vast soundscape and collage of swirling moods and sounds. It’s what I’m digging right now.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

I don't want this great blog to go commentless - I love Crowded House and was so surprised to read that they hadn't had more top 10 hits. Thanks for keeping us informed. Love you, love your blog. Mom