Neil Finn's band makes a welcome return with a finely-crafted album of mature...
Chris Jones 2007-06-29
The Antipodeans finally return after nearly 15 years, though it’s a return tinged with sadness. The Crowdies always had Neil Finn’s gift for melodic concision at their heart (resulting in the term Beatlesque being bandied about at every turn). But along with the talent for deceptively simple pop/rock gems came Finn’s recurring themes of Catholic guilt, melancholy and small town misery. Like their masterpiece, The Temple Of Low Men, Time On Earth isn’t filled with immediate pleasures (as was Woodface or their eponymous debut). It gradually opens up like some intricate flower, growing with stature with every listen.
Yet at the heart of Time On Earth is an absence: That of percussionist, Paul Hester, who took his own life in 2005. As well as the album being dedicated to him, the drummer’s death is alluded to on several songs. Marvellous opener ‘’Nobody Wants To’’ hints at an unspoken taboo subject while ‘’She Called Up’’ could easily be about Finn’s reaction to the news of Hester’s demise. ‘’English Trees’’ could also be a reference to the manner of Hester’s death, but thankfully Finn’s songs have a universality that transcends simple explanations.
These songs - which were originally planned for a solo project - seem so much safer in the hands of this band. There are some moments where the playing seems to be on the automatic setting, especially on first single, “Don’t Stop Now”. This may be due to the presence of the dead hand of Johnny Marr or may be down to the fact that it seems to be about an argument on the way home from a day trip. But in general the sonic template is as adventurous as a band this rooted in the mainstream could be. “Transit Lounge”’s samples of German airport announcements are indeed quite an eye-opener.
So this is an older, wiser, weathered Crowded House, but still as perfect at their craft as ever. Nick Seymour’s bass is the very definition of ‘tastefully minimal’; Mark Hart remains as poly-skilled as ever and Beck’s old drummer, Matt Sherrod, acquits himself most favourably. The only regret is that old Split Enz alumni, keyboardist Eddie Rayner didn't contribute more. He brings a shine to everything he touches. And, while Time On Earth addresses subjects that many may find hard to tackle face-on, Neil Finn still leaves us with a message of hope. The closing track “People Are Like Suns” reminds us all that: ’people are like suns, breathing into life all that’s good in us’. Amen to that, and welcome back boys. We still need you…