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The Beauty And Terror Of Nature Itself: Crowded House’s Time On Earth

Crowded House
Time On Earth

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It’s easy to come back.

The tricky part is what you do once you get there.

While it’s lovely to see The Police or The Jesus And Mary Chain back together again, it would be even lovelier to have fresh material from them. While the aforementioned bands tour the world and have the crowd wondering if they’ll make it through “Roxanne” or “April Skies” without killing each other, Crowded House have done the most sensible thing of all—they’ve made a new album.

Time On Earth is the band’s first long player since 1993’s masterpiece Together Alone and also their first without longtime drummer Paul Hester, who sadly committed suicide in 2005. That being said, the stakes are high and the tenor of the situation bittersweet, but Crowded House, which is now comprised of Neil Finn, bassist Nick Seymour, keyboardist Mark Hart and drummer Matt Sherrod, have managed to make what can only be described as a remarkable album.

Dedicated to the memory of Hester, the album opens up with “Nobody Wants To,” a gentle mediation on mortality and the ephemeral nature of the universe.  Against rippling drums and a swaying guitar line, Finn sings, “Down on the ocean floor/That’s where I’m heading for.” The song may be a somber invocation, but it’s a necessary one—Time On Earth is a stunning song cycle about the inevitable fugacity of human life.

But it’s also about the beauty.

Like a pop version of Whitman or Emerson, Finn emerges here as a man faced with the daunting task of understanding the beauty and terror of nature itself. Contemplating what he calls “the after-image of my outline” (much like Whitman did in “Song Of Myself”: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”), Finn sees traces of himself in storms and waves and trees and lightning, all of which urge him to celebrate his role among the natural order.

All this heaviness of mortality aside, Time On Earth is a great pop album and reasserts Finn’s skills as one of the few pop immortals on the planet. “She Called Up” is a punchy Motown-flavored soul gem; “Pour Le Monde (For The World, Not For The War)” is an aching, world-weary ballad; and “Transit Lounge” offers a fresh take on relationships. Elsewhere, Johnny Marr drops in on two numbers he co-wrote with Finn (“Don’t Stop Now” and the jangling “Even A Child”); “Walked Her Way Down” is loaded with a terribly sexy pop bounce; and the lilting “English Trees” is a heartbreaking and mournful take on loss that finds Finn declaring, “And I must be wise somehow /‘Cause my heart’s been broken down.” The piano-tinged closer “People Are Suns” is the kind of ballad that only Finn can write—emotionally precise, lyrically exact and catchy in the most masterful way.

This is pop royalty at work. Bow down.