Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Crowded House

I've been listening to Crowded House quite a lot the last couple of days. Whenever I say this to anyone, they usually say "aren't they the ones that do 'everywhere you go, always take the weather with you'?", or sometimes "hey now, hey now, don't dream, it's over". But oddly enough, I don't particularly like either of those songs (probably for the same reason I don't listen to 'Everybody Hurts' by R.E.M. that often).

Crowded House's songs (Neil Finn's output in general actually) has always been a little bit hit and miss for me. The Crowded House that I love is the more delicate, almost-on-the-verge-of-falling-apart-but-still-being-musically-beautiful one, and these elements aren't immediately obvious on their biggest hit.

Even as someone who writes songs, I'm not great with the musical theory side of things. This is probably why I got an F at A-Level Music Tech (hardly my finest hour). So I can't say what it is that makes Crowded House's so musically interesting, other than that there's something enigmatic and mysterious about them. 'Kare Kare', the opener from 'Together Alone', is a great example of this. When I first heard it, I kept thinking 'what's going on here? Why is this bundle of musical ideas holding together when it clearly shouldn't?!' Then it just clicked. First there's that slide guitar at the start that seems almost too lazy for Paul Hester's brilliantly idiosyncratic beat, then the bridge that seems to cut in a phrase ahead of where you'd expect, and then 'wait, that's not a bridge, that's the chorus!'. The end of the song is something else altogether. The rhythm becomes tangled and syncopated, almost like jazz, chattering voices whisper away in the background, and it seems like the whole thing's going to peter out, like it couldn't possibly all pull back together in time to bring the song to a satisfying conclusion. Except it does, emerging from a tangled forest onto a starlit beach. It doesn't sound it from that description, but this song is seriously beautiful. Musically, there's something wonderful and special going on here that very few bands could pull off. And the delivery of the phrase 'sleep by no means comes to soon, in a valley lit by the moon' gives me chills.

Then there's Neil Finn's lyrics. He writes about the human experience with an earthiness that few other lyricists can pull off (except perhaps Mike Scott, who I imagine will get his own blog entry on here at some point). He sings in colours ('no fire where I lit my spark, where your words devour my heart, and dust from a distant sun will shower over everyone') and articulates experiences with these obscure turns of phrase that seem to speak right from the soul, as though something ethereal is being drawn up from the Earth and using the human voice as a vessel. They're biblical, savage and, in the case of songs like 'Nobody Wants To' and 'Pour Le Mande' (both at least partly inspired by Paul Hester's suicide) utterly heartbreaking. When Pete Paphides and Caitlin Moran were putting together a campaign about the refugee crisis last year, they chose Crowded House obscurity 'Help is Coming' to soundtrack it because "it evoked with uncanny empathy the howling uncertainty faced by thousands of families arriving in Europe for the first time". How astounding to be able to write words so powerful.

I don't have too much more to say about this, except that, a few years ago, I tried to write my own song in the style of Crowded House's more weird numbers. It's called 'A Twist of Logic', and it sounds - at least in rough demo format - like this...

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