Crowded HouseCrowded House
Time on Earth
(Ato)
½


After more than a decade of silence from Crowded House, you might have expected the band's reunion to have produced an album of overt celebration – songs with the uplifting emotion, power and melody of Crowded House's big 1987 hit “Something So Strong.”

But Time On Earth is, instead, a sonically quiet CD… as if singer/songwriter Neil Finn had been recording his most introspective thoughts in a darkened room late at night, and the old gang came over to back him up… but not necessarily rev things up.

Crowded House is focusing inwardly on this reunion, and that's not actually too surprising, given the circumstances of its release. Crowded House released its last (and 4th) CD in 1993, and shortly afterward, founding drummer Paul Hester left the band. They continued on for awhile, but in 1996, feeling the heart had gone out of it, Finn dissolved the group and pursued a solo career. But after Hester took his own life in 2005, Finn regrouped with bassist Nick Seymour, first for emotional support but then to make music again. The result is Time On Earth, an album dedicated to Hester which, after a few listens does reveal the rich and subtle beauty of Finn's songcraft.

Finn still displays one of the most soothing set of male pipes in pop, and Seymour's throbbing bass seems always threatening to explode into energy… except for the roller-rink-ready pop gem “She Called Up,” which features a handclapping rhythm, a bunch of la-la-las and singsong chorus and even falsettos. But even that upbeat musical attack belies the lyrical undercurrent, which is not so full of smiles:

“She called up
and gave me the news
it made me so sad, sad, sad
there was nothing I could do
she's too far away.”

After the wistful beauty of “Pour Le Monde,” the band strums the guitars a little faster in “Even A Child” where Finn again offers a falsetto-bouyed chorus and a ray of lyrical hope. He sings:

“I want to turn on the lights
I want to keep your hopes alive
so where do I begin
to help you believe again,”

before reaching the song's heart: “Even the child knows you don't waste it/ a promise is only given once.”

They work with a little sonic experimentation on “Transit Lounge,” where Seymour gets to work the bass a little as a foreign-sounding woman (Beth Rowley) warbles over the “lounge” loudspeakers in the background and Finn encourages a friend to “talk to her” to rebuild a relationship. “You could make her happy again,” he sings. “Laugh about the time she threw the dinner at you.”

Rowley's not the only guest on the album. A handful of Finns have credit here, as does former Smiths and Electronic guitarist Johnny Marr, who guests on two tracks, and co-wrote one. And Finn co-wrote the mid-album track “Silent House” with the Dixie Chicks, whose own version of the song appears on their last CD “Taking the Long Way.”

“Time On Earth” is not an album that will get the feet pounding, but it is a solid album of smart, often gently lovely songs, and a welcome return from a band that previously left the stage too soon.