Crowded House: Intriguer

On Crowded House's first true post-reunion group effort, the hooks aren't as readily apparent as in the past. That may be a good thing.

Crowded House


Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2010-07-13
UK Release Date: 2010-06-14

Today's young rock stars can only hope their careers last as long and turn out as idyllic as Neil Finn’s has. For more than 30 years, Finn has been turning out charming, often brilliant thinking-person's pop. His two bands, Split Enz and Crowded House, have been successful enough to keep money in the bank, but not huge enough to invite destructive excess. He's also released solo albums and collaborated with his brother Tim on a pair. He’s quietly become something of an elder statesman, and everyone from Cheryl Crow to Eddie Vedder, from Johnny Marr to Radiohead, has lined up to pay tribute and collaborate.

Of course, not everything has been milk and honey. Crowded House's career was not without its share of strife, not least when Tim Finn joined the band for a spell. Drummer Paul Hester quit in 1994, and Neil Finn imploded the band shortly thereafter. Hester committed suicide in 2005, and that was the catalyst for Finn’s reforming Crowded House. He converted an in-progress solo album into 2007's well-received Time on Earth. Now, Finn, still living in his native New Zealand with his family, has made Intriguer on much surer footing, with a revitalized band and contributions from friends, his wife, and one of his two sons, a successful recording artist in his own right. Rock ’n’ roll stories are supposed to snatch tragedy from the hands of the good life, not the other way around.

Maybe Finn's stability and contentment has informed the sound of Intriguer, a mature, thoughtful, and mostly mellow album. Most likely, though, it's that Finn is no longer satisfied with writing sharp, easily-accessible pop songs. Not that he can't do it, as a track like "She Called Up" from Time on Earth made clear. He is simply more interested in taking that pop underpinning to more sophisticated, less familiar places. Usually for an artist in their 50s, that's code for labored, middle-of-the-road dross that's not much fun to listen to. Indeed, you could be forgiven for forming that type of first impression of Intriguer. The lead single, "Saturday Sun", doesn't sound much like a single at all, a tense, opaque mass of guitars, keyboards, and vocoder through which no chorus makes its way. It's followed by a string of songs that are slow and well-measured. Most of the verses are more catchy than the choruses.

It takes about five listens for Intriguer to sink in. That's an overused phrase to be sure, but it's actually true in this case. Crowded House are such adept craftsmen, they can get away with being subtle, hiding a hook or a great little guitar part where you wouldn't expect it. Intriguer is the sound of a band who are very comfortable together and with themselves, not trying to be anything they're not. A couple tracks, such as "Amsterdam", have a bit too much of that laid-back, comfy slippers feel. But even "Amsterdam" has the most rippin' guitar solo ever on a Crowded House record. It hits you out of nowhere, again and again.

Crowded House made Intriguer with veteran American producer and engineer Jim Scott. Wilco met Scott when they were all working on Finn's 7 Worlds Collide project in 2008. Tweedy and company liked Scott so much they decided to stay on and make Wilco (The Album) with him. And sure enough, you can imagine Tweedy singing more than a few of the songs on Intriguer. Scott has clearly helped free up Finn and his band to try on new sounds and let things flow more naturally. Finn is a notorious perfectionist, but Scott helps the multi-faceted arrangements and layers of instruments to breathe in a way a Crowded House record never has before. "Falling Down" goes from a gentle, arpeggio-based acoustic breeze to a pounding, McCartneyesque middle-eight, complete with hollered backing vocals, which runs up against a wall of psychedelic guitar noise before resetting itself. Even better is "Isolation", a two-fer that gives you shimmering, tremolo, '50s-style doo-wop before hitting you with a full-on acid freakout. Even on the mellow numbers that stay mellow, Finn and multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart fill in the corners with sundry sounds and instruments. New drummer Matt Sherrod adds balance and character.

If you're looking for faster tempos and more immediate tunes, you'll have to look to Intriguer's second half. The gorgeous, piano and lap steel-led "Twice If You're Lucky" comes closest to the sort of pure pop Finn used to deliver in large quantities. It's a touching, uplifting reflection on taking stock of love when "you think reality's shut you down". Also, it may or may not be a treatise on Crowded House's second act. "Inside Out" is a straight-up rocker, complete with fuzzy guitars and lo-fi mix. You can see, then, how what at first may seem like dross turns to revelation and inspiration.

Finn's voice is a pleasure in itself, and time has been kind to it. A hint of a rasp here and there only adds depth. His lyrics, too, are sharp, with a sophistication that matches the songs'. It takes someone with time-won perspective to observe that "Kids kissing on the floor / They make a work of art".

At ten songs and 40 minutes, Intriguer gives you time to delve into it. It's a great album in the classic mold, one that rewards you. Not everyone who loves "Weather With You" or "Pineapple Head" is going to love it. But it leaves no question that Crowded House's initial disbandment was premature. It is fun to listen to, and though that fun is of the grown-up sort, it makes for one of the year's best pop albums all the same.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.