Rhythm & Views

Crowded House

It's been 14 years since Crowded House released a studio recording. Their buoyant pop ditties could have been the soundtrack to the late '80s and early '90s, with no tune more indelibly seared on our collective brainpans than their massive hit "Don't Dream It's Over."

The group said farewell in 1996. However, the suicide of drummer Paul Hester inspired co-founders Neil Finn and Nick Seymour to stitch the band back together.

Though Time on Earth features songs one would immediately recognize as CH, ironically, those are the weakest on the disc. "She Called Up" is an uninspired retread of "Something So Strong." It's far too calculated to enjoy and, after all, times have changed.

Thankfully, the band gets these commercial nods out of the way. The sweet spot of the disc is the ballads "Heaven That I'm Making," "A Sigh," "Silent House" and "English Trees," where Finn's subtle craftsmanship shines through.

In these deceptively simple tunes, Finn slyly shifts time signatures and slides into breaks that are utterly surprising yet appropriate. Several of his minor key melodies, which dominate the CD, have a wonderfully haunting or contemplative feel.

Clearly, Finn hasn't been holed up in a New Zealand cave for the last decade. He's been listening and watching it all turn, evidenced by the eloquent lyrics that a guy approaching his 50th birthday can feel good about.

If you thought CH was merely a pop trifle, Time on Earth will surprise you. The disc won't rewrite the history of modern music, but Finn's delicate, layered and painstakingly crafted tunes have their moments.