This sixth album from the colossally popular Antipodeans is the follow-up to 2006's Time On Earth and is the first to feature the band's full lineup throughout since 1993's Together Alone. Produced by chief songwriter Neil Finn with Jim Scott, who produced the 7 Worlds Collide sessions, it sees the band introducing new ideas into their classic pop-rock sound. It features the web single "Saturday Sun" and includes contributions from Jon Brion, Lisa Germano and Finn's son Liam.
Intriguer is Crowded House's second album since the suicide of drummer and co-founder Paul Hester in 2005 (and their sixth overall), and follows 2007's well-received comeback LP Time On Earth. Prior to that record's release, 13 years had passed since the band's fourth studio set, 1993's Together Alone.
This set improves upon Time On Earth, too–it's more of a band effort, whereas its predecessor was originally intended as a Neil Finn solo offering. It doesn't mess with the Crowded House formula, although those hoping for the instantly gratifying melodies of catalogue classics like Weather With You will have to dig a little deeper. But this is no bad thing, and singer-songwriter Finn claims to have experimented with new sounds here. Though the album doesn't overwhelm with adventurousness, scattered female harmonies provide relief and the vocoder on lead single Saturday Sun proves a ghostly and effective touch.
Hester's absence still hangs over the band–if not explicitly, then in spirit–as Intriguer continues the sombre mood of its predecessor. The lyrical, Paul Simon-esque folk of Falling Dove is one such example, while the haunting duet of Isolation shyly embraces electronics without sounding forced.
Finn's handling of a tune remains strong and his poetic sense of place, familiar to fans of the band, remains. This resonates in the wistful dreaming of Amsterdam and the joyful atmospherics of Either Side of the World, with its loose samba beat and disco-influenced piano (actually inspired by John Paul Young's Love is in the Air). The subtlety in the strength of material like the radio-friendly Saturday Sun and the gently epic Archer's Arrows bears out the band's instinct not to take their experimentation to excess. There are muddied moments which let some songs down: Elephants, for example, fails to transcend its ponderous title. But these dips are infrequent, and occur towards the end of the album.
Crowded House have always sounded in parts like the later solo career Paul McCartney should have had. Despite the anthems being on a tight leash, repeated listens reveal this to be one of their best albums. --Tom Hocknell
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