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Crowded House returns to former glory on ‘Dreamers Are Waiting’

June 8, 2021
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It feels good to say that Crowded House is back with an album containing some of leader Neil Finn’s strongest material in years. The band’s seventh LP, “Dreamers Are Waiting,” their first since 2010, features a new Finn-family oriented lineup and an inspired and memorable batch of songs that invite repeated listening.

The band’s original incarnation was nearly flawless in output. Formed in New Zealand following the breakup of new wave pop rockers Split Enz, Finn built Crowded House in 1985 with original drummer Paul Hester and bassist (and longtime cover artist) Nick Seymour, the only mainstay aside from Finn. The group’s 1986 self-titled debut contains their best-known material in the U.S., the top-10 hits “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.”

Three arguably stronger Crowded House albums followed, each busting with melodies that lodge in your head, lyrics that were in turn confessional yet somehow universal, emotional yet quirky, and sometimes just plain fun.

Hester left in 1994 citing family issues and Finn decided to embark on a solo career following the band’s farewell concert from the steps of the Sydney Opera House for upward of 250,000 fans in 1996. Hester’s tragic death in 2005 marked the end of an era but Finn wasn’t about to let the Crowded House name disappear for good.

Following the release of excellent solo albums “Try Whistling This” and “One All,” a second album with brother and occasional bandmate, Tim Finn, and albums from the Finn-led supergroup 7 Worlds Collide, Neil launched a new version of Crowded House for 2007’s “Time on Earth” and 2010’s “Intriguer” with Matt Sherrod on drums. Both contain fine moments for sure, but at least for this fan, paled in comparison to the group’s original output.

For “Dreamers Are Waiting” Finn tapped the band’s original producer Mitchell Froom to produce and play keys for the first time since 1991’s “Woodface.” Sadly, longtime keyboardist Mark Hart is not part of this project but Finn recently stated that relations are fine and that fans needn’t worry. Finn’s sons, Liam and Elroy, round out the current group lineup on guitar and drums respectively. Basic tracks for the record were recorded in Los Angeles before the pandemic forced the group to finish the album remotely.

“Bad Times Good,” one of two group compositions on the album, opens with Finn’s inviting vocals, dreamy harmonies and a chord sequence that seems to have been waiting for Crowded House. It’s the kind of song that sounds simultaneously effortless but impossible, like the best material from this group.

Most Crowded House songs aren’t intended to be interpreted literally as Finn is never that obvious when it comes to his scrupulously crafted lyrics, but contradiction seems to be an underlying theme, certainly in the opening track, and its successor, the rocker “Playing with Fire.” The song eludes to the pandemic with lines like “My wife is wild in quarantine” and “Some say we’ll turn it around, if you believe such a thing, I’ll believe such a thing.” Layers of backing vocals and a grand production make this infectious song an obvious single.

“To The Island” seems to continue a theme Finn approached with “Private Universe” from 1993’s “Together Alone.” He sings of a special place, in this case an island “where we can save our souls” adding “it’s just the right size” when the world goes to hell in a hand basket. The song contains some of the album’s most beautifully layered vocals.

The single “Whatever You Want” is another instant classic as Finn warns of people who will only tell you things you want to hear. Whether he’s alluding to social media or plain human nature, it’s another song from “Dreamers are Waiting” that could have fit comfortably on any of the band’s early records.

Finn’s sons contributed to the songwriting with Liam’s “Goodnight Everyone” and the father/son compositions “Too Good for This World” and “Start of Something.” Elroy Finn collaborated with his father on “Love Isn’t Hard at All.” The Finn brothers have their own musical projects but hearing them here with dear old Dad is a testament to their individual gifts and the DNA they share.

“Real Life Woman” is one of the strongest songs on “Dreamers are Waiting.” I’m not sure who Finn is referencing when he sings “Never my intention to create a legend/Talking about a real-life woman/Every misadventure is a kind of redemption” but it’s fun to speculate. The song’s minor key descending chord sequence is reminiscent in feel to “Not the Girl You Think You Are,” one of three new songs included on the group’s 1996 best-of “Recurring Dream.”

When Neil Finn was tapped to join Fleetwood Mac, along with Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell following Lindsay Buckingham’s departure in 2018, Crowded House fans naturally had cause for concern. Would the band still exist? Would Neil save his best songs for the Mac? The very obvious strengths of “Dreamers are Waiting” should alleviate any fears that Finn’s Crowded House glory days are behind him.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 June 2021 14:24

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