What to Listen For, you ask?
Number one: Too many instruments jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper area of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity. This is especially noticeable on the second track of side one, Now We’re Getting Somewhere.
With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich; above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments comfortably, not piling them one on top of another as is so often the case; consequently, the upper midrange area does not get stuffed and overwhelmed with musical information.
Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have some edge to the vocals — the band seems to want to really belt it out in the choruses — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.
Musically side one is absolutely brilliant from first note to last. Crowded House may have wanted to be the New Beatles, but those are some pretty big shoes to fill. They fell a bit short — who can compete with The Beatles? — but in their heyday, 1985-1993, they were better at making intelligent, original, melody-driven pop than practically any other group I was listening to. If you like the Art Rock of the ’70s, this album shows that smart, adult rock music could still be made a decade or more later.
(We love Squeeze’s albums from this period as well but the ’80s sound is just too processed and artificial on even the best pressings to be enjoyable on modern high-resolution audiophile systems.)
When people ask me what kind of music I like, a common question from non-audiophiles seeing a house full of records and a custom sound room stuffed with equipment and room treatments, Crowded House is one band I’m happy to namecheck (10cc and Roxy Music and Little Feat being a bit obscure to most people by now).
Sophisticated Pop Albums with Audiophile Quality Sound make up a large part of my record collection, with Crowded House taking its place up near the top, not on the same plane as The Beatles, say, but not that far below either. (Woodface is an album that I have played many hundreds of times over the course of the last twenty years and have yet to tire of.)
The first Crowded House album is a record that belongs no less in your collection than it does in mine. Their songs still get played on the radio and to these ears they’re holding up just fine.
Import Vs. Domestic
We had good and bad copies of both. Interestingly, although the band is from New Zealand, the album was recorded right here in Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to assume that the source tape for the domestic pressings was not the real master two-track. The British copies tended to be a bit smoother, the domestic pressings somewhat livelier. As a rule we tend to like livelier.
The name Crowded House was adopted after the trio flew to Los Angeles to record the album and were provided with a very cramped apartment to live in.
The album’s rhythm tracks were recorded by Larry Hirsh at Capitol Recording Studios, Los Angeles. The remaining recording sessions for the album were at Sunset Sound studios, where the group first collaborated with engineer Tchad Blake who also worked on the next two Crowded House albums. The album was mixed by Michael Frondelli at Studio 55.
World Where You Live
Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Don’t Dream It’s Over
Mean to Me
Love You Till the Day I Die
Something So Strong
Hole in the River
I Walk Away
That’s What I Call Love
… the record was blessed by good timing, and the majestic ballad “Don’t Dream It’s Over” became an international hit, while its follow-up, the breezy “Something So Strong,” also turned into a hit. Both revealed different sides of Finn’s talents, with the first being lyrical and the second being effervescent, but perhaps the truest testaments to his talents are “Mean to Me,” “World Where You Live,” and “Now We’re Getting Somewhere,” songs where the lyrics meld with the melody in a way that is distinctive, affecting, and personal.
If the rest of the record doesn’t reach those heights, it’s still good, well-constructed pop, and these aforementioned highlights point the way to Temple of Low Men, where Crowded House (and particularly Finn) came into its own.
[Better Records takes exception to that last comment. We think the second album is the weakest of the first four, with Woodface the strongest. Woodface is where it all comes together for this band. It’s easily one of the five best albums of the ’90s, but that’s coming from someone who didn’t hear much music of interest in the ’90s. And the recordings themselves tend to be atrocious, a problem that has only gotten worse with time as I’m sure you’ll agree.]
Wikipedia Commentary and Background Originally active from 1985 to 1996, the band have had consistent commercial and critical success in Australia and New Zealand and international chart success in two phases, beginning with their self-titled debut album, which reached number twelve on the US Album Chart in 1987 and provided the Top Ten hits, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong”.
Further international success came in the UK and Europe with their third and fourth albums, Woodface and Together Alone and the compilation album Recurring Dream, which included the hits “Fall at Your Feet”, “Weather with You”, “Distant Sun”, “Locked Out”, “Instinct” and “Not the Girl You Think You Are”. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an OBE on both Neil and Tim Finn, in June 1993, for their contribution to the music of New Zealand.
Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, piano) and drummer Paul Hester were former members of New Zealand band Split Enz, which spent part of 1975-6 in Australia and several years in England. Neil is the younger brother of Split Enz founding member Tim Finn, who joined Crowded House in 1990 on vocals, guitars and keyboards for the album Woodface.
Thanks to their Split Enz connection, the newly formed Crowded House had an established Australasian fan base. They began by playing at festivals in Australia and New Zealand and released their debut album, Crowded House, in June 1986. The single, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, was released in December 1986 and reached number one on the New Zealand Singles Chart and number eight in Australia. It was also a big international hit, reaching number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number one in Canada. It remains the group’s most commercially successful song.
In March 1987, the group were awarded ‘Best New Talent’, along with ‘Song of the Year’ and ‘Best Video’ for “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, at the inaugural ARIA Music Awards. The video also earned the group the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that year.
In June 1987, a year after its release, Crowded House finally reached number one on the Kent Music Report Album Charts. It also reached number three in New Zealand and number twelve on the US Billboard 200 album chart. The follow-up to “Don’t Dream it’s Over”, “Something So Strong”, was not as successful as its predecessor but reached the top ten in New Zealand, America and Canada.
As the band’s primary songwriter, Neil Finn was under pressure to create a second album to match their debut and the band joked that one potential title for the new release was Mediocre Follow-Up. Eventually titled Temple of Low Men, their second album was released in July 1988 with strong promotion by Capitol Records.
Early nineties (1991–1994)
Crowded House took a break after the Canadian leg of the Temple of Low Men tour. Neil Finn and his brother Tim recorded songs they had co-written for their own album, Finn. Following the recording sessions with Tim, Neil began writing and recording a third Crowded House album with Hester and Seymour, but these tracks were rejected by the record company, so Neil asked Tim if Crowded House could use the Finn songs. Tim jokingly agreed on the proviso that he become a member, which Neil apparently took literally. With Tim as an official member, the band returned to the studio. The new tracks, as well as some from the previously rejected recordings were combined to make Woodface, which was released in July 1991.
“Chocolate Cake”, a humorous comment on American excesses that wasn’t taken well by some US critics and sections of the American public, was released in June 1991 as the first single. Perhaps unsurprisingly it failed to chart in the US, however it reached number two on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Tim left Crowded House during the Woodface tour in November 1991, part-way through the UK leg.
For their fourth album, Together Alone, Crowded House used producer Martin Glover (aka Youth) and invited touring musician Mark Hart (guitar & keyboards) to become a permanent band member. The album was recorded at Karekare Beach, New Zealand, which gave its name to the opening track, “Kare Kare”. The album was released in October 1993 and sold well internationally on the strength of lead single “Distant Sun” and followup “Private Universe”. It topped the New Zealand Album Chart, reached number 2 in Australia and number 4 in the UK.