When bands announce that they’re splitting up, there are several ways of processing that information. You can nod sagely and say that the time was right to retire, they’re exiting on a high, blah blah, and you’ll raise a glass to toast their future. Or, you can wring your hands, screaming “No!” to the skies while beating a path to your therapist for some support strategies. There is a third mode. Very occasionally, a band will announce their demise, but the scent of unfinished business still hangs heavily in the air. This is called “The Crowded House Model”.
The 2021 version of Crowded House is different, but somehow still the same, as the band that recorded their first four records before the inevitable split and subsequent reformations. Neil Finn guided the band through the choppy waters of the 1980s and 1990s and assembled a catalogue of pretty-much-perfect pop while he did it. The band’s second act has yielded three albums: Time on Earth in 2007, Intriguer in 2010 and this record – Dreamers Are Waiting. They vary in quality from good to excellent, and the great news is that Dreamers are Waitingis very much in the excellent category.
Crowded House have turned into a low-key supergroup. Joining Finn and longtime bandmate, bassist Nick Seymour are Finn’s two sons Liam and Elroy and ex It’s Beautiful Day keyboard player (and a producer of some considerable renown, including the first three Crowded House albums), Mitchell Froom. Before you shout “nepotism! Cronyism” at anyone within earshot, you should listen to the record. Finn may not have had to spend days searching through his Rolodex for his cohort, but everyone involved with Dreamers Are Waiting has done sterling work. Time has not diminished Finn’s ear for melody, and his current offering is stuffed with them. Melodies that circle your head a few times before they crash land into your brain and dominate your thoughts for hours afterward.
“Bad Times Good” is the muted opener. A gentle drone leads into a skipping guitar riff, and Finn’s dulcet tones (supported by some gorgeous backing vocals) all combine to make a rather beautiful, narcotic tune. “Playing With Fire” sees the band back in more familiar territory – a typically great pop song written with care and attention and a lovely lightness of touch – traits that extend to the last track on the record.
It’s rather nice to see the songwriting credits for Dreamers Are Waiting. Of the 12 tracks, Finn has six solo contributions, two band compositions, and the bulk of the remainder are co-written with his brother Tim or one of his sons. “Goodnight Everyone”, however, is written solely by Liam Finn and proves for once and for all that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The gently pulsing rhythm and slowly uncurling melody point to a very hopeful future for Crowded House. A Menudo for the new millennium? That’s an intriguing and beautiful thought.
What separates this version of Crowded House from any previous incarnations is a lack of playfulness. With the late Paul Hester in the band, there was a certain manic energy present that always threatened to spill over, both in concerts and in the studio. Tunes would fly off at tangents (“Italian Plastic” from Woodface is a prime example – an improvised country hoedown bolted to a mid-tempo pop tune). Many songs were imbued with charming, light-hearted humor. The 2021 model of the band confines quirkiness to its promotional videos, while the music, although never dour, it’s also far less likely to raise a smile like “It’s Only Natural” or “Chocolate Cake” did. Perhaps Neil Finn is finding it hard to find anything humorous about living through a pandemic. You can hardly blame him.
Dreamers Are Waiting sees Crowded House relaxing into their new millennium renaissance. This current lineup seems durable as long as Froom isn’t pulled back into production work and Liam and Elroy listen to their dad when he tells them to tidy up their bedrooms. When the band first split in the mid-’90s, it was for all the right reasons. The same was true of their reformation. Pop music remains safe in their hands.