Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Review: "Intriguer" by Crowded House
In a "No Contest" decision, Crowded House is my favorite band that is still currently putting out music and touring. I have been excited to get my mitts on this record for awhile, and I've finally been able to give it a listen multiple times over. So how does it stack up against the rest of their catalog or against other artists? Great question.
The background to this album goes back a few years. Band leader Neil Finn reformed Crowded House in 2006/2007 after being defunct for 10 years. Original drummer Paul Hester committed suicide in 2005, and this deeply affected all the former members of the band. I'm not sure if this was a main or contributing factor to the band re-forming, but it is a tragedy to see a father, husband, and band-mate take his own life and I can see that providing motivation to make music with mutual friends of the deceased.
Without Hester, they found Matt Sherrod to take over the beat section (Sherrod previously played with Beck.) With original members Finn and Nick Seymour (bass), along with long time member and multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart, Crowded House was back in business. They released "Time On Earth" in 2007 to well received reviews. The only issue with this album was that it was a collection of songs that more than likely would've been a Neil Finn solo album had the band not re-formed.
When I saw them in May of 2008 in San Francisco they unleashed a slew of new songs and it was obvious that the band was seething with creativity. It was also obvious that they were excited about the new songs they were producing- the looks on their faces said it all. They were experiencing a creative boom.
And this is how "Intriguer" was made. It's a return to "band" form for Crowded House. When asked to describe the album in three words, Neil Finn said, "Band moving forward."
So does that translate into their best material to date? Not necessarily. As a massive fan, it is difficult to have a new album immediately leap-frog classic albums like "Temple of Low Men," "Woodface," or "Together Alone." However, many of the songs do fit right in with the greatness of their previous catalog.
The album opens with "Saturday Sun." This song is a rocking 3-and-a-half minute single that gets the album started right. I've grown to like this song a lot. The only jarring thing about this song, initially, was the slightly synthesized vocals during the verse. It's subtle, but it's bordering on "robot voice" which isn't really a good thing. However, the effect is subtle enough to not ruin the song.
"Archer's Arrows" slows the tempo slightly from the end of "Saturday Sun" but it is a welcome breather from the openers upbeat pace. The second track does pick up the pace about a minute in to break into a signature Neil Finn chorus.
"Amsterdam" is a song that starts with vocals, drums, and a breezy sample laid in the background. The opening lines are a little odd (though CH succeeds with odd lyrics throughout their catalog, it is not quite as successful during the opening of this song.) I do love the electric guitar that transitions lines in the verses (it sounds like a minor 7th chord- love those!) Overall, good song, but not a stand out track.
"Either Side of the World" is one of the songs I had heard at the Fillmore SF in 2008. They've put a different beat behind the song (I think it's a samba) and they pull it off with great effect. Neil Finn's falsetto vocals in the chorus can turn a cloudy day bright.
"Falling Dove" is an interesting track that starts off calm with major tones, but works its way into a minor riff that walks its way down the neck. "You keep defending me, while I'm behaving badly, because you love me, because you love me too much." Great line, and executed perfectly within the context of the song.
"Isolation" was a song I was highly impressed by during the 2008 show. They've slowed it down quite a bit (from what I remember) and Neil's wife, Sharon, sings the second verse. Let's just say I appreciate the effort of getting his wife involved, but overall, I would prefer to have Neil do the singing. The jam at the end of this song when the tempo picks up is great! Any sour feelings I have from the slower tempo are eradicated by the end of the song. (I also hear some Wilco influence on some of the guitar riffs in the middle of the song.)
"Twice If You're Lucky" is by far the catchiest song on the album. Instantly it was my favorite on the album, and I have to say it still is. This song holds its own against any of the classic Crowded House songs of years past. I highly recommend this song to any casual listener of rock/pop.
"Inside Out" is an interesting song crafted by Finn and Co. The streaming lyrics on the third line of the verses is not something you typically see from a Neil Finn crafted song, but it works well. This is the last upbeat song of the album, and it barely takes a breath during its entire 3:19.
"Even If" is another song that starts with bare bones instrumentation. Piano and drums only to kick it off. It begins the 1-2 punch of somber songs at the end of the record. Like many of Finn's songs, the payoff is in the chorus (starts at 1:22).
"Elephants" is one of my favorite songs on the record. I'm can't be sure on this, but it does seem to own some emotional influence from Hester's suicide within the lyrics. Another fine stand out line from this album comes at the end of the chorus- "Sweet dreams, make waves, find bliss."
Is this my favorite Crowded House album ever? No. Does it have some of my favorite songs ever? Yes. It has a darker feel to it, and for whatever reason reminds me of Neil Finn's "One Nil" album more than anything Crowded House has done previously (which is ironic given the previous idea of it being more of a "band" record.)
I highly recommend this album to anyone who likes anything in Neil Finn's previously catalog, Wilco, the Beatles, the Smiths, or any other rock/pop artists that can craft an outstanding song. It's better than 99% of the music put out nowadays, so it might a good idea to check it out.