Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Ode to Crowded House

Let me tell you how much the songs of Crowded House mean to me. All I ask is that you read what I have to write. You don't have to like it. I believe you discover a Really Good Band only once in your life, or twice if you're lucky. When I say 'really good', I mean a band that gives you the shivers; a band that gives you that skin feeling. I feel possessed whenever I listen to Crowded House, as though Neil Finn and co. crafted all these beautiful songs to appeal to every emotion in the gamut of human feeling. When I really got into Crowded House at the age of 16, I knew my life would never be the same; that every dismal moment of isolation could be cured by their gorgeous harmonies and melancholic hooks. So many of their songs transport me to a private universe, where the only things that exist are the music and lyrics. If I find myself in the lowlands of dark thought, or feel that I can't carry on, I can rely on their music to be a speedy antidote.

Some of the songs on Crowded House's eponymous debut album are as sweet as chocolate cake, but when you come around to 'Temple of Low Men', you'll notice a darker shift in tonality. Neil's brother, Tim, came on board for the recording of 'Woodface', while their fourth album was recorded overlooking a lush valley at Kare Kare (sic) Beach in New Zealand. Crowded House said Farewell to the World in 1996,  but reformed in 2006. They released 'Time on Earth' in 2007, which was partially inspired by the tragic death of drummer Paul Hester in 2005. This was followed by 'Intriguer' in 2010, which certainly lives up to its title.

Are you still reading? Don't stop now!

You'd have to be a pineapple head to deny the talent of this band. Even a child can appreciate the music they make, and I was a child myself when I was introduced to Crowded House's most popular tracks. I really owe it to my parents for purchasing a copy of 'Recurring Dream': their first greatest hits compilation. I was a fickle child—a black and white boy, if you will. Nevertheless, I was adamant that I enjoyed the music of Crowded House. Their music pops up everywhere, in the places you least expect. You can hear it in a secondhand store while you trawl through Italian plastic, or in a cosy cafĂ© tucked away in the backstreets of Amsterdam, or over the stereo in a transit lounge. The bottom line is: you can hear Crowded House on either side of the world.

I've encountered people who don't like this band, and that's their right, but when they do it out of spite, I flash them a kill eye and let out a sigh. I could challenge them with "say that again", but at the end of the day, music taste is a trivial matter. I should note that such moments are rare. Most people I encounter love this band with the intensity of an archer's arrows penetrating flesh.

One thing I've noticed is that Mr Finn enjoys writing songs about the weather and natural elements. It's only natural to notice a botanical connection between Tall Trees and English Trees. You can bask in the Saturday sun, but as that distant sun disappears and the rain begins to pour, you'll realise that four seasons in one day is a very real possibility. And don't forget that you always take the weather with you, which is of course a metaphor for emotional baggage.

In the liner notes of 'Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House', Peter Paphides writes about "Crowded House Moments". You'll know them when you hear them. They stay with you forever. A Crowded House Moment could be a shift in melody, an entire chorus, a bridge, or any part of a Crowded House song that just sounds 'right'. I know the moments Peter is referring to. They strike me like nails in my feet. The songs are not in my command; I am in theirs. I hear them in a silent house, and we are together alone: the songs and I. Some of the songs are soft, like the grace of a falling dove, while others make their force known, the way Catherine wheels dazzle in the night.

My copy of 'Recurring Dream' is one of my most treasured possessions, despite being in terrible condition. The front cover is missing, so all I've got is the back cover, the disc (thank goodness), and the frayed liner notes. Despite this, I refuse to replace my copy because there is too much sentiment attached to it. Now, that's what I call love! That greatest hits album lured me into temptation with its surreal cover art and even stronger with its timeless tracks.

Fame is inconsequential to Crowded House. Promoter Michael Chugg has said they were so, so close to being one of the "biggest all-time bands in the world" when they broke up in 1996. Even though the whole world may not know about Crowded House, their music is definitely for the world, or pour le monde for those who know French. 

Crowded House lyrics have a distinct sense of humour and a tinge of oddity. Neil Finn wrote a song about the whispers and moans of couples who have sex in hotel rooms. And let's not forget that song about Neil's sister madly screaming in the middle of the night. And there's often an element of autobiography to the songs Neil Finn pens. Neil tells us about the time she called up, or about the way she goes on.

There is something so strong about the songs of Crowded House. I dare you to listen to Together Alone and tell me it's not one of the most beautiful songs ever written on this world where you live. If you find yourself walking on the spot, listen to something upbeat like Black & White Boy to break the monotony.

Despite my great love for this band, I am yet to see them perform live. I'd much rather attend a concert of theirs than own a mansion in the slums. In the heaven that I'm making in my mind, they are on the stage exchanging banter, and I am sitting front and centre. All external influences are locked out of my mind, and they bring down the house with a killer setlist. Nick Seymour strums his bass with fingers of love—the fingers that have strummed along since 1985. I glance at my watch and think "I better be home soon," before deciding the music matters more than my whereabouts. I slink in my seat and think about how all is right in the world, and about how much I love this life. When the night is over, I walk away knowing I just witnessed the greatest moment of my existence.

If people are like suns, Neil Finn shines awfully bright. If I ever meet him, I want to look him in the eye and say, "You are the one to make me cry." Of course, he only incites tears of joy. Haunting songs do that to you. Nobody wants to be caught with tears streaming down their face, but if those tears are in the name of Crowded House, I'll let anyone watch. The day Neil Finn dies will be the day I proclaim "There goes God." I think Sharon Finn made the right decision when she walked her way down the aisle to marry Neil.

Do you feel that you know the band a little better having read this? Good! Now we're getting somewhere! Do your friends a favour and introduce them to this wonderful band. They will fall at your feet, begging for more suggestions. You will have turned their worlds inside out. I'm sure of it—as sure as I am that the sky is blue.

One day I'll be dead. I don't know how I'll die. I could be trampled by elephants, or drive my car into a hole in the river. Even if I die from natural causes, it won't change the fact that I'm gone forever. I wonder what I'd like inscribed on my tombstone. As cynical as I am, I think "Don't dream it's over" would make a nice epitaph.

So, how will you go with the music of Crowded House? Hopefully, you'll adore it as much as I do. Crowded House, I will love you 'til the day I die.

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