An institution in their homeland, a two-hit wonder in the U.S.
and, during the last half of their ten-year career, bonafide stars in the U.K. and most of
Europe, Crowded House recorded some of the best pop music of the late '80s and early
'90s. Leader Neil Finn's carefully crafted songs, meticulous eye for lyrical detail and gift
for melody are matched by few other songwriters.
Crowded House formed in 1985 when Neil Finn dissolved Split Enz rather than carry on
after his brother Tim, the group's founding member, left to pursue a solo career. Instead
of carrying through with the new wave direction of latter-day Split Enz, Neil moved in
favor of a stripped down, back-to-basics combo featuring ex-Enz drummer Paul Hester,
bassist Nick Seymour and, guitarist Craig Hooper. Initially, the group dubbed themselves
after Finn's middle name, touring Australia and recording demos under the name the
Mullanes; Hooper was dropped shortly after this formative period. In June of 1985, the
group headed to Los Angeles to shop for a record label, eventually signing with Capitol
Records. Capitol requested that the band change their name and the group settled on
Crowded House, a reflection of their living conditions in L.A. They began work on their
debut, enlisting the help of then-unknown producer, Mitchell Froom. A partnership
between the band and the producer formed, making Froom nearly a fourth member. The
partnership benefited both the band and the producer -- the band was helped by
Froom's direct approach and more "American" sound as well as his input as a musician,
and Froom was able to build a career as a high-profile producer.
Crowded House's self-titled debut didn't gain much attention upon its release in the
summer of 1986, due to insufficient promotion from Capitol Records. In wake of the
weak support from Capitol, the band took matters into their own hands. Rather than
setting out on an expensive large-scale tour, the band took a more low-profile route,
playing acoustic sets for industry insiders and for small crowds at ethnic restaurants and in
record stores. This unorthodox approach began a buzz within the industry. On the
talk-show circuit, they won over American and Canadian audiences with their charm and
wit as well as their wacky antics. By February of 1987, the album broke into the
American Top 40, eventually peaking at number 12. The album spawned the number two
hit single "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong," which reached number
seven. In Australia and New Zealand, multi-platinum success followed.
Released in 1988, Temple of Low Men was anything but a sophomore slump -- Neil
Finn's new songs were among his finest, showcasing a notable progression in his
songcraft. The album's slightly darker material, however, made for a more difficult listen
and, although the material was stronger, the record lacked the immediate appeal of the
debut. This, coupled with Capitol's lack of promotional support, led to disappointing
sales -- the album barely broke the U.S. Top 40 and the single, "Better Be Home Soon,"
stalled at number 42. Since hope had basically run out for the album, they abandoned
plans for a major U.S. tour. A three-month break in touring revitalized the band for an
well-received Australian and Canadian tour, but by mid-1989 the band had effectively
Late in 1989, Neil reunited with his brother Tim and the duo began writing songs together
for the first time, with the intention of releasing the material on a proposed Finn Brothers
album. The collobration was successful and the duo was prolific, writing 14 songs in a
very short time. After the initial sessions with Tim, Neil began working on a new set of
songs, designed for the next Crowded House album, but he soon found the new material
unsatisfactory. Neil decided to combine the better moments of the Finn Brothers project
and the scrapped third album, adding his brother as a fourth member of Crowded House.
Crowded House's third album, Woodface, released in the summer of 1991, proved the
decision to combine the material from the two scrapped records was sound -- the album
certainly represents their finest recorded moments. Although the choice of "Chocolate
Cake" as a leadoff single was both misleading and off-putting to American audiences,
effectively sinking the album's chances of success in the US, England and Europe
embraced the band for the first time. After about six months of dormancy, they began
charting in the UK and Europe with several singles including the smash "Weather with
You." The British success of "Weather with You" helped Woodface achieve platinum
status in the UK, and led the group to several headlining concerts at Wembley Arena.
Tim, for all of his invaluable contributions in the writing and recording of Woodface,
proved extraneous to the band's live show. He left the band in November 1991, as the
band was in the middle of their tour and just prior to their breakthrough success in
England. Following the success of Woodface, both Neil and Tim Finn were awarded
OBEs from the Queen of England in 1993; the honor was bestowed for their contribution
to the arts.
In early 1993, Crowded House regrouped to record their fourth album, adding American
guitarist Mark Hart (who had briefly toured with the band around the time of Temple of
Low Men) to the band and dropping Mitchell Froom as their producer, opting instead for
ex-Killing Joke member Youth. Together Alone was released in October 1993 (January
1994 in North America) to unanimously positive reviews and solid sales in every country
except the United States. Upon its release, Together Alone entered the English charts at
number four; at the time, Woodface was still in the UK charts. After the album was
released, Crowded House embarked on a successful European tour. They were
beginning an American tour when Paul Hester decided to leave the band to spend more
time with his new family. Hiring a session drumer, the band rounded out the tour,
eventually returning to Australia.
By the end of 1994, Neil Finn decided to cut back on the touring to work on side
projects which included some production work for Dave Dobbyn and a second try at a
Finn Brothers album with Tim. The Finn Brothers finally released their long-awaited duet
album in the fall of 1995. In June of 1996, Neil officially broke up Crowded House. That
same month, Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House was released,
entering the U.K. and Australian charts at number one. After a handful of "final shows" in
various locations, on Sunday November 24, 1996, Crowded House played their official
farewell show at the Sydney Opera House to 100,000 fans as a benefit for the Sydney
Children's Hospital Fund.
-- Chris Woodstra
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