[Review] Crowded House (1987)

A new album that fits perfectly between Split Enz and Squeeze in your CD collection.

Kronomyth 1.0: Frank and Neil.

In the end, Split Enz was a house divided. As Tim Finn went off on his own Escapade, Neil Finn shouldered the bulk of the songwriting for the band, which resulted in the pretty decent Conflicting Emotions and the not-so-pretty See Ya Round, after which the Enz dizzolved. Neil slipped out the back door with the rhythm section from the final touring version of the band, and re-appeared in Crowded House.

Crowded House became something of an international sensation when Don’t Dream It’s Over and, later, Something So Strong soared into the US Top 10. The album captures the musical zeitgeist of college rock in the late 80s: tuneful, wistful, mature, with modern production that manages to sound “authentic” through folksy instrument choices like acoustic guitar, organ and jangly percussion. Producer Mitchell Froom is at least partly responsible for this sound, with the caveat that I’ve never much cared for it.

About half the album is very good, which is what you’d expect from a superb songwriter like Neil Finn. The aforementioned hits, World Where You Live, Can’t Carry On and Tombstone deliver on the promise of new songs from the most tuneful Finn. There are a few nods to the earlier Enz, such as the return of the dirty creature on Love You ‘Til the Day I Die, and I Walk Away is actually a holdover from the last Enz album. The rest of the record is fine as filler goes, including a dark tale about a dead aunt (Hole in the River).

The only really problem with Crowded House is that it isn’t crowded enough. Split Enz was a seven-piece band. Crowded House only has the three full-time players, with Froom insinuating himself as a fourth member through frequent keyboard solos. Split Enz records also had a certain kookiness that rarely appears here (or on Tim Finn’s first solo record, for that matter). I had less of an issue with Squeeze sounding like grown-ups, but a grown-up Split Enz just makes me feel old.

I probably should like this album more than I do, but the heavy production is off-putting and both the sentimentality of the past (cf. “The Devil You Know”) and the quirky strangeness (cf. “History Never Repeats,” “Hello Sandy Allen”) are sorely missed. Initially, I thought this record was really good, so you can take my waffling opinion for what it is or chalk it up to a creeping cynicism with age. Fortunately, more of the group’s personality emerged on later albums.

The Songs

1. Mean to Me*
2. World Where You Live
3. Now We’re Getting Somewhere
4. Don’t Dream It’s Over
5. Love You ‘Til the Day I Die
6. Something So Strong (Neil Finn/Mitchell Froom)
7. Hole in the River (Neil Finn/Eddie Rayner)
8. Can’t Carry On
9. I Walk Away
10. Tombstone
11. That’s What I Call Love (Paul Hester/Neil Finn)

All songs written by Neil Finn unless noted.
*On the cassette versions, track 1 appeared as the fifth track after “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

Deluxe Edition bonus disc
B1. Something So Strong (home demo)
B2. Hole in the River (studio demo)
B3. Love You ‘Til the Day I Die (home demo)
B4. That’s What I Call Love (studio demo)
B5. Can’t Carry On (studio demo)
B6. Walking on the Pier (studio demo)
B7. Does Anyone Here Understand My Girlfriend (studio demo)
B8. Oblivion (studio demo)
B9. Walking on the Spot (studio demo)
B10. Something So Strong (studio demo)
B11. Now We’re Getting Somewhere (studio demo)
B12. Stranger Underneath Your Skin (home demo)
B13. Don’t Dream It’s Over (home demo)
B14. Left Hand (live)
B15. Grabbing By the Handful (live)
B16. World Where You Live (writing demo)
B17. Recurring Dream (original version)

The Players

Neil Finn (guitar, piano, lead vocal), Paul Hester (drums, background vocals), Nicholas Seymour (bass guitar) with Jorge Bermudez (percussion), Mitchell Froom (keyboards), Jim Gilstrap (background vocals), Heart Attack Horns (horns), Jim Keltner (drums on “Now We’re Getting Somewhere”), Andy Milton (background vocals), Noel (Crombie) (background vocals), Tim Pierce (guitar), Joe Satriani (background vocals), Jerry Scheff (bass on “Now We’re Getting Somewhere”). Produced by Mitchell Froom except “Can’t Carry On” produced by Eddie Rayner & Neil Finn; engineered by Tchad Blake, Dennis Kirk, rhythm tracks engineered by Larry Hirsch; mixed by Michael Frondelli.

The Pictures

Design/cover panting by Nicholas Seymour. Art direction by John O’Brien. Photography by Dennis Keeley.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in March 1987 in New Zealand, the US and Canada (Capitol, ST/4XT5-12485, CDP 7 46693) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #12 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-released on Deluxe Edition 2CD in 2006 in Japan (Capitol/Universal) with bonus disc.

1 thought on “[Review] Crowded House (1987)

  1. This was my least played CH album for years, but it’s grown on me a lot lately (largely due to Neil Finn’s podcast, where he plays all the albums acoustically).

    I think part of it is that it’s “just” a bunch of songs; from Temple of Low Men and onwards, each album seems to be more of a cohesive whole. As you write, they were still finding their voice.

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