Crowded House (1986) ***1/2
I had a hard time deciding whether this was only a *** effort or deserved that extra half star. On the first few listens, it sounded like a typical "three hit singles + a bunch of ordinary album tracks" piece of product, and yes, I know that "World Where You Live," wasn't a hit, but it was a single, and it's just as strong as the winsome, if utterly banal and conventional in sentiment, "Something So Strong," which was a Top 10 hit. But neither are nearly as good as the one song that this album, and Crowded House, shall forever be remembered for - of course I'm talking about "Don't Dream It's Over," what other song could I possibly be talking about? You know it, I know it, everybody knows it, so there's no point in discussing it, let's move on to the other, less familiar 9 songs that occupy the rest of this disc (or cassette, in my case - it was the '80s). Did I say, "banal and conventional"? Well, yes - Crowded House are as deeply conventional as it gets, but only occasionally banal. Repeated listens reveal the not-always-obvious hooks (not a healthy thing for a pop band) and subtle flourishes: the trilling mandolin solo in "Now We're Getting Somewhere," the barrelhouse piano driving "Hole in the River" (a singer-songwriterly song too mordantly personal for hit single material, but one of the album's strongest cuts). But repeated listens aren't going to save the dated production, with the gratingly bellowed over-vocalizing, the booming, hollow drum sound, and garish synth slams found scattered around the record (horribly finding fruition in the closer, "That's What I Call Love") reminding me of everything hateable about the mid-'80s. Almost drove me to dock this album a half-point, but really the only other stinker is "Love You Til the Day I Die" (don't get the two "Love" songs mixed up, now), and OK, so Neil Finn isn't the world's most compelling lyricist, as the trite song titles clue you in, but hey, it's just power-pop, comes with the terrain. As with most of the other Crowded House albums, it improves slightly with each listen, which means that there's got to be a little staying power, right?