Crowded House - IntriguerThere aren’t many musical events more welcome than a new album from Crowded House. That’s largely because you know what you’re going to get, and I mean that in the best possible way: a collection of finely crafted songs, replete with lovely melodies, wistful, intelligent lyrics, and appealing harmonies. I’m happy to report that Intriguer (Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group) is no exception.

This is the second album from the band (the first being 2007’s excellent Time on Earth) since the untimely demise of founding drummer Paul Hester, and their return from a layoff of ten years. It’s one of the finest efforts of their career. Led by the gifted Neil Finn, and produced by Jim Scott (best known for his outstanding work with Wilco), the Crowdies bring us ten exceptional new songs (there are a couple of bonus tracks floating around too, but I don’t have them), mostly written by Finn (the sixth track, “Isolation,” was written by the band). In addition to Finn, the band, now a quartet, features original bassist Nick Seymour, and keyboard player Mark Hart and drummer Matt Sherrod, who came aboard for Crowded House version 2.0.

Finn has made this one something of a family affair, with his wife Sharon helping out with the vocals on the ethereal “Isolation,” and son Liam playing guitar on “Falling Dove,” and adding the perfect touch of psychedelia to the coda of “Isolation.” Other guests include violinist Lisa Germano, multi-purpose man Don McGlashan, who brings acoustic guitar, percussion, and horns, and the indispensable Jon Brion, who adds sampled voices and mashed up guitar to the proceedings.

It’s tough to pick out one or two particular songs from a collection that is this consistent, but I’m awfully fond of “Twice If You’re Lucky,” which somehow feels like the perfect representation of what makes Neil Finn a great songwriter, and Crowded House a great band. On the other hand, the samba groove of “Either Side of the World” is something of a departure for the band, but a welcome one indeed.

By now, if you’re a fan of Neil Finn, or Crowded House, you don’t need me to tell you that Intriguer is essential. If you’re not yet a fan — and by that I mean someone who has never heard the band, because once you hear them you’re a fan — it’s an excellent starting point. In any event, there’s no way you can go wrong. Grab this one today and become a part of the cult of the biggest little band in the world.