As my brother and I played a game of darts in an Oregon bar, we talked about the differences between accuracy, precision and consistency. As his darts ended up in the same localized area on the board, yet not quite near the bullseye, I had remarked that he was incredibly consistent. He then retorted that this was true, but he was not precise or accurate. Mine were neither, ending up willy-nilly across the board in a display of randomness that couldn’t even be saved by chaos theory. And, of course, as you were probably expecting, this conversation about these topics is relevant to music as well. I suppose you could measure this in any number of ways, with precision meaning either number of hit songs or simply creating a solid album all the way through. Consistency, in my opinion, only means one thing, releasing one good album after another. Consistency is probably the most hotly contested quality of a band, at least for established acts. We love to rank a particular artists’ album in our order of preference. We like to argue over whether The Bends is, in actuality, better than OK Computer. We like to say that we enjoy every Lou Reed album save Metal Machine Music. That is what drives us to continue our passion for music by our favorite bands, consistency. But not too much! A little Kid A never hurt anyone and sometimes change can be a very good thing.
It’s been fourteen long years since Crowded House released their last studio album. It’s never seemed that long to me, I suppose because you could say that I’m a Finn fan first and a Crowded House fan second. Tim and Neil Finn have captured my attention since they were squabbling brothers in a band long before the Gallaghers. Split Enz released some of my favorite songs of the ’80s including “I Got You,” “Dirty Creature” and the glorious “Six Months in a Leaky Boat.” Neil Finn’s solo albums and collaborations between both Finn brothers continued after Crowded House packed it in. But that `middle’ band, the one that Neil led after Tim left Split Enz, that’s the one that was the most beloved, the most successful and the most consistent. Four albums spanned seven years with countless single releases, though none as popular as the ever-present “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Time on Earth is the result of a reunion prompted by the untimely death of Crowdie drummer Paul Hester. His long battle with depression ended in 2005, and I could think of no better tribute than new songs in his honor.
The great thing about `consistent’ bands is that you can listen to their first album and their most recent album, and they both sound like the band you remember. Fourteen years hasn’t had any effect on the greatness of Crowded House, as is evidenced by the songs on Time on Earth. “Don’t Stop Now” is a worthy first single, easily able to stand alongside some of their best over the years, including “Weather With You,” “Into Temptation,” and “Four Seasons In One Day.” “She Called Up” and “Say That Again” are the proof of consistency, maintaining the steady stream of memorable choruses and clever songwriting, with the latter sometimes resembling a Radiohead track circa OK Computer. “Pour la Monde” is an incredibly sad tune, having both to do with the deceased Hester (presumably) and the current war. I don’t know about anyone else, but this Beatlesque track is what I have been hoping for from Paul McCartney for years but have been consistently disappointed. Neil Finn sums up a wise liberal view in one short sentence, `for the world, not for the war.’
“Even a Child” benefits from the brilliant guitar work of Johnny Marr, which is actually more noticeable here than on the last Modest Mouse release, but maybe that’s because he co-wrote the track. “Silent House” proves that lightning can strike twice, as this song, co-written by the Dixie Chicks, is one of the best on either album. “Walked Her Way Down” actually reminds me that the consistency inherent here is not just with Crowded House, it’s mainly with Neil Finn. This song in particular is reminiscent of the more angular sounds of Split Enz, combined with the darkness inherent in his more recent solo releases. There’s something to be said for someone who can write great pop songs for over 27 years. “Transit Lounge” is an odd, quirky yet fun one, featuring Beth Rowley on accompanying vocals, and a loop of an announcement made in a Paris airport ten years prior.
But what this album is really about is found in songs like “A Sigh” and “You’re the One to Make Me Cry,” introspective songs about loneliness, depression and sadness, the very things that Paul Hester could not escape. Even the illustrations that accompany the lyrics in the liner notes are heartbreaking. For “A Sigh,” there are three comic book panels, one for every verse. In the first two we see the tops of two heads, in the third only one. Time on Earth, the title itself a tribute to the short life of the band’s beloved drummer, is a fitting tribute to a fallen friend, a welcome return of a band gone too long, and a shining example of consistency. I wonder if Neil Finn plays darts.
Radiohead- OK Computer
Neil Finn- Try Whistling This
The Frames- The Cost