I don’t get it. I simply don’t.
2007 was a pretty good year for music, all in all. Maybe not great for the actual industry of selling music, and maybe not fantastic on the Top 40 charts (unless you intended on hiding beneath an umbrella-ella-ella or Supermanning that ho), but few years in recent memory have kept me truly engaged in looking for what was coming out next. Iron And Wine put out a great, hi-fi stunner in The Shepherd’s Dog, The New Pornographers broadened their stylistic pallet with Challengers, Radiohead roared back with In Rainbows. Why Crowded House’s Time On Earth isn’t similarly heralded, I’ll never know.
Coming through Dave Matthews’ ATO imprint, the band is as intact as one could honestly expect. Paul Hester’s death prompted, in part, the band’s original dissolution, and Tim Finn wasn’t exactly a full fledged member, although the Split Enz pseudo-reunion was rather cool. With Neil Finn and Nick Seymour back on board, this is a more complete reunion than, say, The Zwaning Pumpkins. Regardless of staffing, had this been a Neil Finn solo effort, I would still call it painfully overlooked, as there were few pop/rock albums from last year as catchy and accomplished as Time On Earth.
Maybe I’m biased. I was pulling for the release long before I heard it, but once I did hear it, I was hooked. Although the songs sound like Crowded House compositions, they do not sound like orphans from the 1980s dressed up in ’07 fashions. “Pour Le Monde” would have been beautiful no matter when it was released, “Walked Her Way Down,” while having that insistent rhythm heard on their signature “Something So Strong,” gets you on its own merits. It’s just insanely tuneful, with a melody that digs deep into the brain and doesn’t let up. “Nobody Wants To” is a classic Finn ballad.
And then there’s “Say That Again.” It shouldn’t seem like such an anomaly, but it does. First, it is positively aggressive with a propulsive beat, a slightly muted chug of a guitar line and some slicing instrumental textures that, dare I make comparisons, skew less toward power pop and more toward Robert Fripp! Second, in that scheme of what you can crank up in your car and what you cannot, this falls decisively in the former category. You will not look like a chick-flick escapee blasting “Say That Again.”
Lyrically, it is not Dostoevsky. It’s a love song at heart with the protagonist wanting to keep his paramour all to himself: “Late nights of crawling on the sidewalk / Let’s stay on in the mansion for the weekend / Let’s go on making moments last a lifetime / We live on in the company we keep.” And just to make sure that said protagonist really believes it is the Big “L,” the poetic “The hint of a smile / The accidental rhyme / That captured me the first time” is so much smarter than “I love you girl / I’ll give you the world.” Then again, Finn’s lyrics have always been smarter than the average pop star’s. It’s partially his Achilles’ heel that he won’t speak down to the “heart/apart, girl/world” ethic.
The part that I’m unsure about is whether his pairing of such earnest lyrics with such an undercurrent of musical uncertainty is intentional. I’d like to think it is and that this four-or-so-minute ditty somehow catches a Film Noir vibe where the hero is led down the dark, doomed path by a femme fatale, all beauty and devotion on the outside but prone to much “crawling on the sidewalk” on the inside. If not, then Finn has the good fortune of making choices that provide unexpectedly positive results. If so, he’s elevated not only his craft, but the pop genre itself in some small way.
Which brings me back to my opening sentiment: On the strength of the song, and of the album as a whole, Time On Earth should not have fallen through the cracks as easily as it did. Was ATO properly promoting this thing? Did anyone get it out to the “tastemakers” (yuck) or was it always destined for cutout status next to other, less worthy reunions? I hope this bit of exposure will entice you to check out the CD. (That’s what we’re here for, actually.)
Mostly, though, I hope this isn’t the last we hear of Crowded House.