Essential New Music: Crowded House’s “Crowded House,” “Temple Of Low Men,” “Woodface,” “Together Alone,” “Afterglow,” “Time On Earth” And “Intriguer”

Dismiss New Zealand’s Crowded House as a mere politely polished ’80s relic at your own peril. Sure, frontman/songwriter Neil Finn can knock out winsome McCartney-esque pop like nobody’s business, but he’s every bit as idiosyncratic a ’60s-influenced songwriter as Robyn Hitchcock or XTC’s Andy Partridge. Finn sinks his melodic hooks in deeply and lyrically; he’s often ruminative and even death-obsessed.

So this reissue series with deluxe packaging and extra CDs of bonus tracks is well overdue. The 1986 self-titled album contains their only U.S. hits (“Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong”) amid occasionally overbearing production touches. 1988’s Temple Of Low Men puts more focus on Finn’s brooding side, while 1991’s Woodface adds older brother Tim Finn to the lineup and emphasizes their fraternal vocal blend. 1993’s Together Alone is Crowded House’s finest album, with textured production and eclectic arrangements spotlighting the mysteries in songs like “In My Command,” “Nails In My Feet” and “Distant Sun.”

The band broke up a few years later (1999’s Afterglow is a pleasant if inessential collection of outtakes), but it reformed after the 2005 suicide of drummer Paul Hester. 2007’s Time On Earth is an especially somber reunion album, which largely plays to Finn’s strengths. But 2010’s Intriguer is a curiously bland and inert affair.

The copious demos and live versions that fill out these reissues are probably for fans only. Nevertheless, they give plenty of insight into both Finn’s craft and the band’s Hard Day’s Night-like sense of humor.

—Michael Pelusi

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