TIME ON EARTH
Given the consistent quality of Neil Finn’s songwriting, it amazes me how some folk sneer at or apologise for liking Crowded House. Sure, ‘Weather With You’, still many people’s abiding memory of the band, was a trifle cheesy but, as the superb ‘Recurring Dream’ retrospective proves, much of their work has aged startlingly well. So there is little doubt that there remains a place for Crowded House in today’s music scene.
Whilst the death of original drummer Paul Hester was the unlikely motivation for the band’s reunion, it’s obvious the tragedy has affected the overall mood of their comeback album. So it is that ‘Time On Earth’ begins, not with a celebratory anthem, but rather the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar and a muted drumbeat. ‘Nobody Wants To’ is one of a few songs themed around mortality, whilst ‘English Trees’ may or may not be an indirect reference to Hester’s suicide. Anyone holding out for the unbridled optimism of ‘Weather With You’ or ‘Distant Sun’ may be left disappointed, but ‘Time On Earth’ requires a good few listens to sink in and it’s not as though Crowded House are strangers to melancholy; 1988’s ‘Temple Of Low Men’ being a case in point.
The quirky ‘She Called Up’, similar in melody to early classic ‘Something So Strong’, lightens the mood somewhat, but its cartoonish ‘la la la’ refrain, the kind favoured by the Fratellis or Kaiser Chiefs, leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Fairing better are the two Johnny Marr collaborations; ‘Don’t Look Now’ is a quality soft rocker that actually owes more to Teenage Fanclub than the Smiths, though Marr’s classic Rickenbacker style is stamped all over ‘Even A Child’. Ultimately, the slower tunes win out, in particular, the gorgeous Lennon-esque ballad, ‘Pour Le Monde’.
‘Time On Earth’, clocking in at just under an hour in length, could have been shaved by at least fifteen minutes; ‘Transit Lounge’, in which Finn duets with Beth Rowley (who is credited with providing the, I kid you not, ‘ethereal vocal’!), smacks of filler, whilst ‘You Are The One To Make Me Cry’ is a mismatched marriage between Crowded House and slow jazz.
As previously mentioned, ‘Time On Earth’ might not grab you on first listen, but perseverance will be duly rewarded.