Crowded House, Time on Earth (ATO Records, 2007)

Neil Finn initially founded Crowded House after his previous band Split Enz, still the most famous group to originate in New Zealand, split up in the early eighties. Drummer Paul Hester was recruited from the final Split Enz lineup, and bassist Nick Seymour completed the original trio. The band eventually became a quartet during a career that spanned ten years and four albums, with Mark Hart adding keyboards and guitar on the last album Together Alone. The members of Crowded House fought with their share of inner demons, though, especially Hester. Despite his outward happy-go-lucky demeanor and the light-hearted songs he contributed to the band, Hester suffered from bipolar disorder to a crippling degree. In 2005, ten years after Crowded House split up, Hester hung himself.

Finn had spent the years after Crowded House alternating between performing as a solo artist and as half of a duo with his brother Tim, who was part of Split Enz and also a member of Crowded House for one album and tour. The songs Neil wrote in the wake of Hester's suicide were clearly affected by that event, so much so that it only makes sense that Finn decided to record these songs together with Seymour and Hart as a re-united Crowded House. Ethan Johns and Matt Sherrod split the drumming responsibilities during the recording sessions, and Sherrod has officially joined the band as the fourth member.

The new CD is called Time on Earth, and it can be argued that Hester is as present on this album as he was on the four Crowded House albums he drummed on. The opening song "Nobody Wants To" talks about the fear and reluctance people have to address the subject of death or their own mortality. On "People Are Like Suns," the closing song, Finn sings about the limited time we have. Several of the songs in between follow similar lines as well. The material gets heavy at times, but the sincerity of Finn's feelings comes through, especially on the sonically agressive "Silent House," the album's most emotionally potent track.

Given the subject matter, much of the music on Time on Earth is predictably on the darker side. Finn has made a very long and productive career largely out of making melodic and accessible songs that hold up even when they veer towards melancholy, though. There might not be a "Don't Dream It's Over" on Time On Earth, but songs like the anti-war ballad "Pour le Monde" make the album a worthy addition to the Crowded House catalog. The CD has a couple of good upbeat tracks too, including the power-pop song "Even A Child" which Finn
co-wrote with Johnny Marr (from The Smiths, obviously, but also more recently with Modest Mouse).

Time on Earth is not always an easy listen or a feel-good record, but there is plenty of quality on it, and it serves as a fitting tribute from Crowded House to a fallen bandmate and friend.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

No comments: