Split Enz continued until 1984, by which time Tim Finn had left the band after the success of his 1983 solo set, Escapade. Helmed by Neil Finn, the reconfigured group made a final LP, See Ya ’Round, and undertook a final series of live shows, the Enz With A Bang Tour, where Finn met bassist Nick Seymour, brother of Mark Seymour from highly respected cult-level Aussie rockers Hunters & Collectors.
Having hit it off with Seymour, Finn decided to form a new band, also pulling in ex-Split Enz drummer Paul Hester and second guitarist Craig Hooper. Active by early 1985, this new outfit – originally named The Mullanes – first played live in June ’85 and signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. Hooper, however, departed shortly after, so the remaining trio headed to Los Angeles to record their debut LP, reputedly changing their name to Crowded House at Capitol’s behest, and in a nod to the lack of space in the tiny communal apartment the band shared while staying in the city.
The band recorded their self-titled debut with future Elvis Costello/American Music Club producer Mitchell Froom, who also added most of the album’s keyboard parts. Thankfully devoid of the synths, electronic drum sounds and sequencer-based studio textures that blighted a lot of mainstream pop hits from the mid-80s, Crowded House remains a fantastic record, full of quirky, but hook-stuffed pop songs ranging from the ballsy, brass-enhanced ‘Mean To Me’ to the gorgeous, swaying ‘World Where You Live’ and the wired, Talking Heads-esque ‘Love You ’Til The Day I Die.’
Thanks to their history with Split Enz, Crowded House already had a strong fanbase in Australasia and they played a number of festivals in Australia and New Zealand shortly after Crowded House was released in June 1986. Curiously, despite this tailor-made audience and their album’s quality, the LP was slow to take off, with the first single, ‘Mean To Me,’ only charting in the lower reaches of the Australian Top 30.
The group’s fortunes quickly changed, however, when ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (arguably Crowded House’s most transcendent moment) was released as a single in December ’86. Shooting to No.2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, this memorably plaintive anthem rose to No.1 in Canada and eventually also topped the charts in the band’s native New Zealand. Initially a commercial slow burner, Crowded House also then caught fire, reaching No.1 in Australia in June 1987 (where it became a multi-platinum seller) and also an impressive No.12 on the US Billboard 200, where it again earned a platinum certification.
The band again hooked up with producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake for their sophomore LP, Temple Of Low Men, which was compiled from sessions in Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia. Released in July 1988, the album was a shade darker and more introspective than Crowded House, though it contained another generous selection of Neil Finn-penned treats including the world-weary ‘I Feel Possessed’, the jaunty, jazz-flavoured live favourite ‘Sister Madly’ and the beguiling ballad ‘Into Temptation’.
Topping the charts in Australia and hitting No.2 in New Zealand, the LP’s yearning first single, ‘Better Be Home Soon’, was another highlight; after it made the US Top 50, Temple Of Low Men followed it onto the Billboard 200, where it peaked at No.40 and earned the band a gold disc. In Australasia, the album also performed strongly, climbing to No.1 on the Australian charts and simultaneously rising to No.2 in New Zealand. Crowded House subsequently promoted the LP’s release by touring in Australia and Canada, with the band’s core trio initially augmented by ex-Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner and later multi-instrumentalist (and ex-Supertramp alumnus) Mark Hart, who would eventually become a full-time member of the line-up.
Taking a break after the band’s Canadian dates, Neil Finn reconnected with his older brother Tim to record songs they’d co-written for their own LP, some of which would later be released on 1995’s Finn. Neil Finn’s next batch of songs were intended to form the bedrock of a third Crowded House LP, but Capitol rejected the demos, sending him back to the drawing board. Eventually, Neil approached his older brother to ask whether the band could use some of the co-written Finn songs. Tim Finn agreed to this suggestion on the proviso that he would be allowed to join Crowded House should the band record these songs. Though Tim’s suggestion was allegedly only made in jest, Neil took it seriously and his brother was duly ushered into the band.
Consequently, Crowded House’s third album, July 1991’s Woodface, included eight co-written Finn Brothers songs, with Tim and Neil often co-harmonising on lead vocals. Again produced and engineered by Froom and Blake, the 14-track Woodface was another multi-platinum smash in Australasia and – for the first time – it also yielded significant success in the UK for Crowded House, where it rose to No.6 in the charts. The album eventually earned a platinum certification in the UK on the back of a succession of evergreen Top 40 hits including ‘Four Seasons In One Day’, the glorious ‘Fall At Your Feet’ and the quirky (and seemingly omnipresent) radio hit ‘Weather With You’.
Tim Finn left the band part way through the tour to support Woodface, and Mark Hart stepped in again, but this time he stayed on when the gigs finished and became a full-time member of Crowded House. Indeed, he played an important part in the creation of the band’s fourth album, Together Alone, which was released by Capitol in October 1993.
Instead of simply returning to the usual recording studio complex, the band opted to record Together Alone on location. Hooking up with new producer/ex-Killing Joke bassist Youth (aka Martin Glover) they proceeded to record most of the album in a house belonging to mutual friends on remote Karekare Beach on New Zealand’s North Island.
The sessions produced some of Crowded House’s most ambitious, but satisfying music to date. Responsible for keyboards, mandolin, some of the guitars and even lap steel on several cuts, Mark Hart’s musical dexterity immediately broadened the band’s sonic palette, while log drummers and a traditional Maori choir also made their presence felt on and the album’s emotive titular song. Neil Finn was again on sparkling songwriting form, and the LP spawned a clutch of the band’s most memorable hit singles courtesy of the stirring ‘Distant Sun’, the blissful ‘Nails In My Feet’ and the edgy rocker ‘Locked In’, which climbed to No.12 on the UK Top 40 chart.
Together Alone again sold well, topping the charts in New Zealand, going to No.2 in Australia and No.4 in the UK, where it achieved a platinum certification. Storm clouds, however, gathered around the band during the ensuing tour when drummer Paul Hester walked out during US dates in April 1994. The band finished the tour after drafting in replacement skinsman Peter Jones, but their future was thrown into doubt and, after Neil and Tim Finn’s long-delayed Finn LP was released in 1995, Crowded House announced their split after completing a string of dates in Europe and Canada in the summer of 1996.
To coincide with the group’s split, Capitol issued a “greatest hits” career anthology, Recurring Dream, which also featured three freshly recorded tracks, ‘Everything Is Good For You’, ‘Instinct’ and ‘Not The Girl You Think You Are’. The LP was a huge success, going multi-platinum in the UK and Australia, and gold in numerous territories such as Holland, Belgium and Canada. The band, meanwhile, eventually bowed out after a massive – and emotional – final gig on the steps of Sydney Opera House in September 1996 (in front of a crowd of over 120,000 people), which was later issued as Farewell To The World – firstly on VHS and, 10 years later, as separate 2CD and DVD packages.
Post-split, the band members remained busy with both Tim and Neil Finn releasing accomplished solo LPs, Mark Hart rejoining Supertramp and Nick Seymour moving to Dublin and producing critically hailed Irish indie act, Bell X1. A posthumous 2CD collection of unreleased tracks, Afterglow, was released by Capitol in 1999, but the band stated that they had no intention of reforming at the time.
The Finn Brothers released an accomplished second album, Everyone Is Here, in 2004, following which former Crowded House drummer Paul Hester tragically died by his own hand in March 2005. Shortly after, Nick Seymour played alongside The Finn Brothers in tribute to Paul at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and then, in 2006, sessions for a proposed Neil Finn solo LP (with Ryan Adams producer Ethan Johns) morphed into an all-new Crowded House album. Mark Hart and new drummer Matt Sharrod (ex-Beck) came on board in January 2007 and, with the band announcing their official reformation, they finished their comeback LP, Time On Earth, recording several additional new tracks with producer Steve Lillywhite.
Including a clutch of Crowded House’s loveliest songs (including Johnny Marr co-write ‘Even A Child’, ‘She Called Up’ and the poignant ballad ‘English Trees’) Time On Earth was greeted by a brace of positive reviews, while its commercial performance showed that the band’s popularity remained undiminished, with Neil Finn and co being rewarded with platinum sales in Australia, a gold disc in New Zealand and a silver disc in the UK.
Crowded House played a series of high-profile festival dates (including Coachella in California and the Australian Live Earth event) in support of Time On Earth and, by 2009, were again working on new material at Neil Finn’s own Roundhead Studios in Auckland. The band’s sixth fully fledged studio LP, Intriguer, was released through ATO/Mercury in June 2010 and featured stunning new tracks such as the lilting ‘Amsterdam’, the enigmatic ‘Archer’s Arrow’ (featuring violin from guest Lisa Germano) and two of Finn’s most exquisite ballads, ‘Even If’ and ‘Elephants’.
The band undertook an extensive world tour in support of Intriguer, and the LP put up a strong showing commercially, topping the Australian album chart, peaking at No.3 in New Zealand and rising to No.50 on the US Billboard 200. With Neil Finn having taken time out to release his widely acclaimed 2014 solo set, Dizzy Heights, it’s still Crowded House’s most recent studio set, though the band remain very much alive and Universal Music/Capitol’s extensive 2010 CD-and-DVD box set, The Very Very Best Of Crowded House, remains a staggering retrospective that any self-respecting fan of beautifully crafted guitar pop simply can’t be without.
Split Enz needed to end, particularly since founding member Tim Finn found his little brother Neil's growth spurt uncomfortable, but also because Neil was no longer writing tunes that made sense within the context of a band that ran the gamut from art rock to eccentric new wave. Neil was now writing songs that were undeniably totems of popcraft, but infused with the spirit and introspection of a singer/songwriter. This formula would later become quite popular with artists from Matthew Sweet to the legions of basement auteurs in the pop underground, but this sensibility was relatively unheard of in the mid-'80s -- hence the birth of Crowded House. Neil retained Paul Hester from Enz, added Nick Seymour for the trio, and recorded one abandoned attempt at an album before joining with Mitchell Froom for the band's eponymous debut. At the time, Froom's clean production seemed refreshing, almost rootsy, compared to the synth pop dominating the mainstream and college scenes at the time, but in retrospect it seems a little overreaching and fussy, particularly in its addition of echo and layers of keyboards during particularly inappropriate moments. But Finn at his best overshadowed this fairly stilted production with his expert songcraft. As it happened, the record was blessed by good timing, and the majestic ballad "Don't Dream It's Over" became an international hit, while its follow-up, the breezy "Something So Strong," also turned into a hit. Both revealed different sides of Finn's talents, with the first being lyrical and the second being effervescent, but perhaps the truest testaments to his talents are "Mean to Me," "World Where You Live," and "Now We're Getting Somewhere," songs where the lyrics meld with the melody in a way that is distinctive, affecting, and personal. If the rest of the record doesn't reach those heights, it's still good, well-constructed pop, and these aforementioned highlights point the way to Temple of Low Men, where Crowded House (and particularly Finn) came into its own.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Where Crowded House's previous album, Temple of Low Men, showcased the often dark side of a man alone with his thoughts, Woodface represents the joy of reunion and the freedom of a collaborative effort -- more than half of the album was originally conceived as a Finn Brothers project, which was Tim and Neil's first crack at writing together. The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers' perfectly matched voices.
Words: Chris Woodstra
Following the success of Crowded House's debut and the band's grueling promotion schedule, Neil Finn was clearly showing signs that he was no longer happy being New Zealand's zany ambassador to the U.S. While the material on Temple of Low Men demonstrates great leaps in quality over its predecessor, it is a darkly difficult album, especially for those expecting Crowded House, Pt. 2 -- in short, there are no immediately accessible singles. Instead, Finn digs into the depths of his emotional psyche with obsessive detail, crafting a set of intense, personal songs that range from the all-too-intimate look at infidelity of "Into Temptation" to the raucous exorcism of "Kill Eye." Through all of this introspective soul-searching, Finn reveals most of all his true mastery of melody.
Words: Chris Woodstra
More experimental and musically varied than any of their previous releases, Together Alone finds Crowded House branching out into traditional Maori music and heavy guitars, as well as the shining pop songcraft that is Neil Finn's trademark. Picking up a new guitarist and adding the production skills of ex-Killing Joke member Youth, Crowded House energize their sound without losing sight of Finn's classic pop songwriting, as "Locked Out" and "Distant Sun" prove.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Like any band, Crowded House had some unfinished business after their split. Namely, they had a number of very good songs that never appeared on an official album. These weren't rejects, per se -- they were tunes that didn't have a home, so they popped up on B-sides, soundtracks and live shows, where Crowded House regularly aired unreleased and rare songs. These often became fan favorites yet they weren't readily available until the appearance of the rarities, B-sides, and "orphans" collection, Afterglow. Not every non-LP song made the cut, but everything here is quite strong and the album gels very well, sounding a bit like a lost album, even if the tracks were recorded between 1985 and 1994. Is it an essential collection? Well, for hardcore fans -- the kind that know that with the existence of Afterglow they can now piece together the running order of the original Woodface -- it certainly is. But it's not just for them, since casual fans will find several gems here. Perhaps Paul Hester's endearingly silly "My Telly's Gone Bung" will rub them the wrong way, but such gems as the pre-Crowded House tune "Recurring Dream" and the gorgeous "I Love You Dawn" rank among the group's finest, proving that Neil Finn became an exceptional songsmith during the time he led Crowded House. They, along with several other tunes, mean Afterglow isn't just appealing for Crowded House diehards, but for anyone with a taste for fine, well-crafted pop.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With the heavy lifting of the Crowded House reunion out of the way, Neil Finn is able to settle into comfortable craft on Intriguer, the band’s sixth album. Intriguer isn’t as self-consciously weighty as Time on Earth -- Finn is not tackling mortality in the wake of the death of his longtime friend and bandmate Paul Hester -- but it’s also not as hazy as Finn’s pair of solo LPs. In tone and timbre, it’s closest to the second Finn Brothers album, the ruminative Everyone Is Here, but it lacks the reflective undertow of that 2004 album; it may be subdued, but it’s not reveling in its melancholy, it’s riding a gentle wave, swaying from song to song. Sometimes the tempo gets slightly heated -- “Inside Out” works a nicely grinding guitar riff, “Saturday Sun” pulsates to an electronic rhythm -- but the album doesn’t command attention so much as it teases it. This light touch suits Finn’s songs; he’s favoring subtle craftsmanship over immediate hooks, so it only fits that the mood of Intriguer is soothing, something that pays off great dividends upon close listens. It may not be flashy but it’s sturdy and expertly honed, reflecting Finn’s craftsmanship on a song-by-song basis but holding together better as an album than any Finn project in recent memory.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Although Neil Finn was always the undisputed leader of Crowded House, they also possessed an undeniable band chemistry, most apparent on their freewheeling live shows but also evident on their four studio albums, each possessing a distinct identity from each other. When Neil pulled the plug on Crowded House after 1994's Together Alone, it was clear that it was for musical reasons, that he wanted to step out and try some new things, resulting the kaleidoscopic Try Whistling This and the hazy One Nil, both book-ended by albums with his brother Tim. Neil planned to follow that second Finn Brothers album with another solo project, but as he started work, tragedy struck: his longtime friend Paul Hester, the drummer for Split Enz and Crowded House, committed suicide in 2005. In the wake of his death, Finn reconnected with the other founding Crowded House member, bassist Nick Seymour, and slowly the third solo album turned into a Crowded House album, with latter-day second guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart brought in along the way, working alongside guests like Johnny Marr and Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner. It was an organic reunion -- and not uncommon in the Enz universe, either, as the band keeps falling together for occasional anniversary concerts and popping up on each other's albums -- that arose perhaps as part of the grieving process, or perhaps Neil realizing he'd rather be part of a band than a solo act and, in his words, "what other band could I be in."
So, the very fact that Crowded House re-formed made sense, but the resulting 2007 album Time on Earth feels considerably different than the band's first four, often betraying its origins as a Neil Finn solo album. To begin with, it's streamlined where their previous albums were ragged, and the most notable element that's been trimmed is the humor that ran throughout each of their albums. This curtailing of good spirits is an appropriate, even expected, reaction to Hester's death, and his ghost does linger over the whole of Time on Earth, beginning with its very title and carrying through to Seymour's artwork, but most apparent in the subdued, contemplative tone of the album. Finn's lyrics are littered with allusions to Hester -- sometimes deceptively so, as on "Silent House," co-written with the Dixie Chicks prior to the drummer's death and first appearing on their 2006 album Taking the Long Way -- and this mildly mournful vibe is enhanced by the subdued tone of the album. This set of songs takes its time, relying heavily on ballads and meditative, mid-tempo pop tunes, and even the brighter numbers like "She Called Up" are far from sprightly. Finn may in a ruminative mode but Time on Earth is not heavy-handed or oppressively sorrowful: it's contemplative and sweetly melancholy. Given this hushed vibe, it's not surprising that the album, as a whole, is a bit of a grower, as Finn's tunes take some time to reveal their gifts. A few songs have an immediate impact -- such as the gently propulsive "Don't Stop Now," the snappy, jangly Marr collaboration "Even a Child" (the closest this record comes to a rocker) and the spacy, tongue-in-cheek "Transit Lounge," featuring Beth Rowley as vocal support -- but most of these are subtle songs that unfold at their own speed. It may take some time for the songs to catch hold, but once they do, they dig deep, sticking around in the memory like much of Finn's best work. But even if the best of this album does stand proudly alongside the best of Finn's music, Time on Earth is still quite unlike any of his other records: strangely, it feels more like a solo album than either of his solo albums, partially because it's such an introspective work, partially because it sustains a bittersweet tone from beginning to end, whereas his other solo efforts careened wildly between moods. But even if this is unquestionably Neil Finn's show, this also does feel like the work of a band, since there is a warmth here, a feeling of support, that sounds like a group, not a one-man-band. This curious intermingling of sounds and intent makes Time on Earth a haunting yet comforting affair that is quite unique in Neil Finn's body of work, yet functions as an oddly appropriate, utterly worthy, comeback as Crowded House.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine