Friday, March 30, 2007

Welcome Back, Crowded House

The world is once again blessed with the appearance of legendary pop-rock combo Crowded House, with their terrific, timeless pop nuggets and a veritable musical legacy of superb songcraft and memorable melodies. Yes, your favourite Antipodean pop institution is more or less back in business, with a date pencilled in for the upcoming Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, appearing on April 29, and the promise of an extensive tour to follow, and more importantly, a new album in the works.

So, to commemorate such an historic event, it would seem appropriate to briefly check out each of the four official studio albums Crowded House crafted in their initial decade-long life span:

Drawing from the more accessible aspects of skewed new wave geniuses Split Enz (the immediate predecessors to Crowded House), their eponymous debut (six-times platinum in Australia) is chockfull of immediately accessible, friendlily effulgent pop gems that bore just a hint of darkness. The stately yet bittersweet "Don’t Dream It’s Over" is the most obvious candidate for best-known Crowded House song, but "Something So Strong" is also a strong contender, an optimistic pop blast noteworthy for its seamless approximation of mid-period Beatles guitar hooks. Elsewhere, "Mean to Me" and "World Where You Live" are sparkling, radio-ready singles that should have made bigger dents on the charts, while the slightly morbid "Hole in the River" is Neil Finn at his storytelling best.

The intimations of moodiness hinted at on the first album are warily trotted out into the spotlight on this sophomore endeavour. Opening track "I Feel Possessed" sets the mood perfectly, an acerbic, slightly leftfield number that is built from a series of minor keys, a first for the band. Meanwhile, the claustrophobic, chilling "Into Temptation" (arguably Finn at his most personal) is a too-intimate anecdote of an extramarital affair, and the rollicking "Sister Madly" is a desperately brisk rockabilly pastiche. However, the best is saved for last: the quietly emotional "Better Be Home Soon": a regal, country-influenced ballad that is tinted with cautiously optimistic hope.

The shadows left over from "Temple of Low Men" were hurriedly dispelled for this third record, a bright and brilliant reinstatement of the Crowded House hummable-melody aesthetic. The provisional inclusion of Split Enz leader and Neil’s older sibling Tim Finn for some songwriting and guitar duties is a stroke of genius, given his penchant for catchy, tasteful pop-rock arrangements. The opening "Chocolate Cake" might be a rather unwise choice for a lead single, given its thinly veiled verbal assaults on the vagaries of American popular culture, but following hits like "It’s Only Natural" and "Fall at Your Feet" are gorgeous pop songs that contain no lyrical hang-ups. The sunny, summery "Weather With You" is another contender for archetypal Crowded House song, while the baroque-informed ballad "Four Seasons in One Day" has more or less been accepted as Melbourne’s (Finn’s adopted home) unofficial theme song.

The airbrushed perfection of the preceding three albums is exchanged for a darker, more atmospheric ambience on this fourth effort, arguably the group’s most inspired work. The addition of second guitarist Mark Hart introduces a harder, rockier edge to the band’s basic blueprint. Thoroughly eclectic and esoteric in nature, "Together Alone" takes in previously unexplored musical accents like indigenous Polynesian chanting, quasi-ambient patterns, freeform log drumming and Celtic folk. It did spawn several extraordinary, dreamy singles, like the luminous, classicist-Crowded House pop jewel "Distant Sun", the echoing, cabalistic "Fingers of Love" (featuring some of Finn's most eloquent and articulate guitar work to date), and the densely packed, remarkably polyrhythmic "Private Universe". The title track is a seamless, inspired amalgamation of a traditional Maori choir, a full-scale brass band and Crowded House’s effervescent pop sensibilities.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Priset = Aura and Ripple

Goth-rock veterans The Church veered off in hitherto unexplored directions at the outset of the 1990s that had them incorporating expansive Floydian prog-rock, tricked-out electronica textures and disciplined Kraut-rock cadences into their neo-psychedelia template, translating into a wholly compelling, esoteric sound that is yet to be bested. The first fruits of this new sonic adventurism comprises the bulk of the dreamy, surreal "Priest = Aura" album from 1992, which contained all manner of genre explorations, from waltz-time interludes ("Swan Lake") and improvised arena-rock ("Kings"), to English music hall ("The Disillusionist"), trip-hop patterns ("Feel") and tumultuous white-noise collages (the appropriately named "Chaos"). Check out the atmospheric video clip for the shadowy Goth-rocker "Ripple" right here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

A welcome reunion of one of the foremost synth-pop groups of all time is this year's official reformation of Liverpudlian duo Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, comprising Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. With a full-scale tour and a possible new album in the offing, it's certainly terrific news for all diehard aficionados of electronic pop who have been endlessly looping "Souvenir", "Electricity" and "Joan of Arc" on their stereo sets and MP3 players. Check out a revealing interview with McCluskey and Humphreys on the French variety show "Taratata" here, which also incorporates a well-executed rendition of the classic "Enola Gay", performed by the original ensemble for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Four Seasons in One Day

A precursor of sorts to the later "Private Universe", Crowded House's luminous "Four Seasons in One Day" from 1991 is replete with surreal lyrical imagery, minor-key chords and of course, that impeccable Neil Finn melodic sensibility. Check out the quirky, well thought-out promo video right here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lives in the Balance

Originally poised as a searing indictment of the Reagan administration's shenanigans in South America, Jackson Browne's powerful "Lives in the Balance" found new life in 2005 when it was recast in a stellar acoustic version, this time taking aim at the Bush administration's dubious anti-terrorism policies. Check out the highly effective video clip here, which comprises a montage of the havoc that the neo-conservatives have wracked on a post-9/11 worldscape.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The perfect threnody comes in the form of Joy Division's elegantly ominous "Atmosphere", written and recorded just prior to frontman Ian Curtis's suicide. Couched in a simple yet effective arrangement - echoing percussion rumbles, funereal synth chords, subtle bass undertows and Curtis's own mournful vocalising - "Atmosphere" is a commanding modern-day lamentation that easily holds its own against any traditional lamentation. Check out the surreal video by Anton Corbijn here, made eight years after the group's disbandment.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's very first single , 1979's "Electricity", enthusiastically extols the virtues of the titular subject. Odd song topic, some might opine, but then again, this is the same group that wrote a paean to Enola Gay (the B-52 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima), an ode to Catholic martyr Joan of Arc, and a tribute to a power station (Stanlow, an installation on the outskirts of the band's hometown of Liverpool). Check out the primitive but strangely compelling clip for "Electricity" here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Magic of Bowie and Glass

What happens when modern rock icon David Bowie and pioneering minimalist composer Philip Glass meet? The magical, terrific results are well borne out in a pair of masterful collaborative albums, 1993's "Low Symphony" and 1997's "Heroes Symphony". Both records are based on two of Bowie's so-called Berlin trilogy, 1977's "Low" and 1978's "Heroes", with selected tracks reinterpreted as experimental symphonic movements.

In these new recordings, the essences of the original compositions are retained, while their previously dormant avant-garde nuances are intelligently fleshed out and decidedly dramatised. This translates into thematic pieces which invariably make for a powerful auditory experience. Check out the brilliant rendition of the commanding "Heroes" (with an accompanying montage of related images) here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lonesome Day

A sharply drawn and frighteningly vivid anecdote set against the backdrop of the events of 9/11, Bruce Springsteen's "Lonesome Day" contains some of the Boss's most detailed lyrical allegories. With its very palpable doomsday imagery and a strident yet somewhat reticent performance, this opener to Springsteen's triumphant 2002 comeback "The Rising" remains one of the most underrated gems in hsi expansive repertoire. Check out the cinematic video clip here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


The Cure are known for their many bizarre and oftentimes-disturbing videos, but the promo that arguably takes the prize as the Goth-rock icons' most inventive production is Tim Pope's brilliant short film for the slow-motion late-night horror tale "Lullaby". Featuring a frighteningly nervy Robert Smith (who has more make-up on than usual) and his madcap alter-ego, the insistently ravenous spiderman, the whole clip has a distinctive aura highly reminiscent of ancient Victorian boardinghouses and their dank, dark corners. Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Don't Give Up

One of the most powerful statements of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, Peter Gabriel's moving "Don't Give Up" (taken off his stellar 1986 opus "So") features an empathic second vocal from notoriously reclusive songstress Kate Bush. The inclusion of Bush's sweet-toned contralto provides an interesting vocal counterpoint to Gabriel's gruff, gravelly tenor, and also supplies a welcome distaff viewpoint to the song's lyrical make-up as well. Check out the atmospheric video clip here.