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Blissful, Swoonsome Pop
on 9 June 2007
After obtaining an advance copy of this I feel I've now played it enough to offer my reflections on its merits.
It gets off to a great start with the melodic pop of `Nobody Wants To' followed by the lead off single `Don't Stop Now'. The latter is chockfull of lovely hooks and chiming guitars and is propelled by a great Nick Seymour bass line. Absolutely classic stuff!
After hearing the Real World Studio webcast and Thekla live run outs I thought the brooding, folky 'Silent House' (co-written by Neil with the Dixie Chicks) would become my favourite track. However, great though that song is, there are such musical riches on this album that any of four or five others could be.
Up there among the best is the beautiful, Lennonesque `Pour Le Monde' (`For the World'). This piano-led composition features one of Neil's best ever lyrics and promises to become an emotional stage favourite to rival `Don't Dream it's Over'.
Elsewhere `Even a Child', `Walked Her Way Down' and `Transit Lounge' provide further evidence of Neil's gift for writing totally original tunes that you feel you've heard before - but haven't. Instantly likeable, the former two in particular have not left my head all week.
In places the atmospheric production (two producers are at work here) recalls the outstanding job Youth did on `Together Alone'. The remarkable, shimmering beauty of `A Sigh' and the more up-tempo `English Trees' could have slotted on - and enhanced - that fine album.
Being Crowded House, amidst the classic tracks there's one or two that just don't cut it. For me `She Called Up' (part 'The Munsters' theme tune, part Elvis's 'Burning Love') and the dreary, tune-free `Heaven That I'm Making' should have been left off the album. At around 59 minutes/14 tracks long they could have been ditched without short-changing the customer.
That minor quibble aside, Neil is in fantastic voice here - in fact, as good as he's ever sounded. His falsetto on the chorus to the affecting `You Are the One To Made Me Cry' elevates an excellent song to the level of a minor masterpiece. Smokey Robinson eat your heart out!
The album ends with the fantastic, psychedelic `People are Like Suns'. This would have fitted on any Beatles album from `Pepper' to `Abbey Road' with its slowed-down strings and slightly off-kilter piano. It's probably Neil's most obvious ever nod to the Fab Four's musical legacy.
At times `Time on Earth' manages to sound more like a Neil Finn solo album than Crowded House, but given its recording history that is hardly surprising.
Fortunately the standard of Neil's songwriting here easily surpasses that found on his two lacklustre solo efforts, `Try Whistling This' and `One Nil'
I have spoken at length about Neil Finn's contribution to `Time on Earth' (as he wrote the majority of it solo and is lead singer that's hardly surprising!), but this album would be poorer if not for the fine talents of those two Crowded House stalwarts, bassist Nick Seymour and multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart, who also contribute some fine harmony vocals.
Ex-Beck drummer Matt Sherrod (among others) does a fine job with the sticks and the production by Ethan Johns and Steve Lilywhite is never intrusive and perfectly captures the album's many moods and styles. Throw in the typically fluid, ringing guitar of Johnny Marr on two tracks: 'Only A Child' (which he co-wrote) and 'Don't Stop Now' and you have an uplifting listening experience
In summing-up, this album could have been a total mess, but instead it's an absolute triumph. Whisper it, but it may well be the most consistently excellent album of Neil Finn's career.
The only sad thing is that Paul Hester never lived to play on it - that would have made this album perfect.