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Crowded House

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Crowded House is a rock group formed in Melbourne, Australia, and led by New Zealand musician and singer-songwriter Neil Finn. Originally active between 1985 and 1996, their notable hits from this period include ¡°Don¡¯t Dream It¡¯s Over¡±, ¡°Something So Strong¡±, ¡°Better Be Home Soon¡±, ¡°Fall at Your Feet¡± and ¡°Weather With You¡±.

Neil Finn is widely recognized as the primary songwriter and creative direction of the band having led the group through several incarnations, drawing members from New Zealand (Neil Finn, Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner), Australia (Paul Hester, Nick Seymour, Peter Jones and Craig Hooper) and from America (Mark Hart and Matt Sherrod).

Though the band owe their original success to the Australian live music scene, the common references to New Zealand people and places (Auckland, Kare Kare, Te Awamutu) in several songs pay homage to Finn¡¯s personal roots. The success of the group¡¯s third album, Woodface, and the general success of Crowded House and Split Enz prompted the Queen of England in June 1993 to bestow the OBE on Tim and Neil for their contribution to the music of New Zealand.

The group had important connections in the Australian and New Zealand rock scenes. Neil Finn and Paul Hester were former members of the New Zealand rock band Split Enz; Neil is the younger brother of Split Enz founding member, Tim Finn. Nick Seymour is the younger brother of singer-songwriter-guitarist Mark Seymour, leader of the now-defunct Australian rock group, Hunters & Collectors.

The first incarnation of the band, The Mullanes, formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1985; it included guitarist Craig Hooper, formerly of The Reels. They secured a record contract with Capitol Records and moved to Los Angeles, at which time Hooper left the band. At the label¡¯s behest, the band changed their name to Crowded House, which alluded to the cramped quarters the three members shared in Los Angeles during the recording of the album. They also invited former Split Enz keyboard player, Eddie Rayner, to join, and he produced the track ¡°Can¡¯t Carry On¡± for the first, self-titled album. He initially joined them on tour in 1988 on keyboards, but had to leave for family reasons before he could be made a full member. Crowded House was later nicknamed The Crowdies by their Australian fans.

The band had a built-in New Zealand/Australian audience waiting to see what was next for the Split Enz alumni. Crowded House played a few festival shows in Australia and New Zealand in 1986 before releasing their eponymous debut, Crowded House, in the summer. Capitol Records did not see any immediate promise for the band, and promotion for the album was lacking. Faced with an uphill battle to get the word out for their efforts, the band played small venues to vie for attention. The album¡¯s first single, ¡°Mean to Me¡± failed to chart in the US, but word slowly got out, and the song ¡°Don¡¯t Dream It¡¯s Over¡± was released as the album¡¯s second single in December; it became a massive international hit. The video for the single was mostly autobiographical, showing the houses which the band members occupied on their way to the ¡°crowded house¡± which they rented in Los Angeles during their album¡¯s production. ¡°Don¡¯t Dream It¡¯s Over¡± reached Number Two in the United States, and the video earned the group the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1987. The song has since been rerecorded by artists such as Paul Young (1991) and Sixpence None the Richer (2003).

On the strength of the single, their album wound up selling well. ¡°Something So Strong¡± was the next single from the album, and it peaked at Number Seven in the US. ¡°World Where You Live¡± was issued as the third single in the US where it reached Number 65 in the late summer of 1987, and ¡°Now We¡¯re Getting Somewhere¡± charted in other countries.

¡°Don¡¯t Dream It¡¯s Over¡± was later used prominently in the made-for-TV movie The Stand, based on Stephen King¡¯s, The Stand. It is also now used in the advertisement for New Zealand Tourism Board in its ¡°100% Pure New Zealand¡± worldwide promotion.

As primary songwriter for the group, Neil was now under pressure to create a second album that matched the success of his band¡¯s debut (the band joked that one potential title for the new release was Mediocre Follow-Up). Temple of Low Men was released to great fanfare in 1988 along with the single ¡°Better Be Home Soon,¡± which reached Number 42 in the US. Other highlights of this album were ¡°I Feel Possessed¡± and ¡°Sister Madly,¡± the latter a raucous sing-a-long when played in concert. Although critics were impressed, the album was not as accessible as their debut. Specifically, the public was not expecting the first single to be an acoustic song with country roots, and it set the stage for disappointing album sales. The label quickly pulled promotion for the album yet again, and Crowded House had effectively disbanded in frustration after a short tour of Australia and Canada. Mark Hart accompanied the band from January 1989 as a tour performer. Nick Seymour was temporarily ¡°fired¡± from the band for a month in early 1989.

Faced with some time off, Neil began writing some songs with his brother Tim for an album they were considering to release under the name ¡°Finn.¡± The sessions yielded enough songs for an album and both brothers were happy with the result, but Neil was also faced with the task of writing a third Crowded House album. After a rejection by the record company of the material he had composed for this album, Neil asked his brother if they could use some of the Finn songs for the next album. Tim agreed, jokingly saying that it was on the proviso that he be made a member. Neil took this literally and the band soon wound up in the studio again recording the new songs.

Woodface was released in July 1991, and it featured seven songs written jointly by Finn/Finn. The other tracks were primarily Neil compositions - with the exception of the exuberantly dark Paul Hester gem ¡°Italian Plastic,¡± a live staple of a band at their best on tour - mostly songs that were from the original rejected album. ¡°Chocolate Cake¡± was released as the first single, and it sealed the fate of the band in America. The song was a scathing comment on American excesses. It was not taken well by critics or the public in the country and failed to make the US singles chart. The album¡¯s second single, ¡°Fall at Your Feet¡± fared a little better, but with lost momentum for the band it only reached Number 75.

The album sold well internationally. The immense success of this album particularly in the UK prompted the Queen in June 1993 to bestow the OBE on Tim and Neil for their contribution to the music of New Zealand.

The band was at the pinnacle of its creative output, and the songs ¡°Weather with You¡± and ¡°Fall at Your Feet¡± became signature songs for the band. During the first supporting tour for Woodface, Tim Finn was asked to leave part way through the UK leg (which was projected as the final leg but the success of the album dictated more dates). Mark Hart was flown in to play keyboards for the remaining dates. The final date of this first tour at the Town and Country Club in London was recorded and given a limited release in Australia and excerpts were released as single ¡®B¡¯ sides in other territories.

For their next album, Together Alone, Crowded House recruited multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart of Supertramp to join the band as part of the studio lineup in addition to touring duties. Producer Youth helmed the sessions in Karekare Beach, New Zealand. The opening song of the album is a jam session by the band that was then named ¡°Karekare¡± after the beach. The album sold well internationally upon release in October 1993 (except in the US) on the strength of ¡°Distant Sun¡± and the haunting ¡°Private Universe.¡± The song ¡°Locked Out¡± was the album¡¯s first single in the US, receiving a modest amount of exposure on MTV and VH-1. ¡°Locked Out¡± was also included on the soundtrack for 1994 US film Reality Bites which also featured the song ¡°My Sharona¡± by The Knack. The two songs were released together as a promotional jukebox single.

The band toured Europe and had begun a series of dates in the United States when drummer Paul Hester left the band, requesting more time with his family. Although they finished the tour with session drummer Peter Jones, Neil¡¯s heart was not in the work. Following the tour, he decided to work with Tim on their joint album and plan for a solo career. The band officially dissolved shortly after the release of Finn in 1995.

A career-spanning collection of greatest hits and a few new songs, the compilation was released in June 1996 and went straight to Number One on the Australian and UK record charts. By this time their success in the UK was comparable to their success in Australia with some of the singles making it to a higher chart placing. Early copies of the album came with a second CD of live material that captured a few moments of the band¡¯s undeniable ability to please a crowd, with varying locations from England, New Zealand and Australia.

Though no longer being credited as a band member, founding member Paul Hester returned to the skins for the Crowded House Greatest Hits Collection to record three new songs, the funky ¡°Instinct,¡± the Beatlesque ¡°Not the Girl You Think You Are¡± and the optimistic anthem ¡°Everything is Good for You¡±.

On the strength of Recurring Dream, it was decided that the band should have a proper send-off, with one final concert on November 24, 1996. All original members, including Paul Hester, were on board. This concert was later released on CD and DVD as Farewell to the World (2005).

Afterglow is an album released in 1999 featuring a collection of (formerly) rare and unreleased recordings. It featured the single release ¡°Anyone Can Tell¡± and also live favorite ¡°Recurring Dream¡± that had previously only been available on the soundtracks of the movies, Tequila Sunrise and Rikky and Pete, as well as single B-sides. In the same vein of the Recurring Dream album, there was a short history published in the album¡¯s sleeve detailing information about the collection of songs and their history. Some limited release versions of the album included a second CD of spoken-word commentary about the songs from Neil Finn. Many fans were dismayed to find that this would - once again - confirm that Crowded House was no longer. However they would reform in 2007.

On November 24, 1996, supported by Custard, Powderfinger and You Am I, Crowded House played its last show (prior to the 2007 reunion) on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in front of a crowd of between 120,000 and 250,000 fans, one of the biggest concerts in Australian history. It was postponed by one day due to inclement weather but the band played a ¡°warm up¡± gig for the overseas fans that were unable to stay in Sydney for the extra day. Proceeds from this concert supported the Sydney Children¡¯s Hospital. In November 2006, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the concert, a 2-CD-album and a 2-DVD-Set was released.

Neil Finn mentioned a box set of rarities to be released next year on the commentary track of the Farewell to the World DVD (2006). He specifically mentioned that his demo version of ¡°Don¡¯t Dream It¡¯s Over¡± would be on it.

In January 2007, longtime rumors of a Crowded House reunion and tour were officially confirmed. Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and Mark Hart reformed Crowded House for a new album entitled Time on Earth and a world tour. After Paul Hester¡¯s death in 2005 and the Farewell to the World DVD release in 2006, the members reconnected and warmed up to the idea of being together in a band again. The new album was recorded in 2006 and was long believed to be the next Neil Finn solo album. It was known that Nick Seymour was involved in the sessions and would be part of the touring band. At some point during the sessions, it was decided to revive Crowded House again. It is not known how involved Mark Hart was in the recording of the album, but he will be playing on the tour. On February 23, 2007, former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod was announced as Paul Hester¡¯s successor. The four band members are currently rehearsing for the tour and have recorded four new songs for the album. The fact that Crowded House will continue without Paul Hester has caused some mixed feelings among fans, but most welcome the reunion.

On March 17, the band played a live gig from their rehearsal studio to about 50 fans, and broadcast the concert live online. The two-and-a-half-hour set included numerous Crowded House staples, along with a handful of new tracks, including a Dixie Chicks¡¯ track co-written by Finn, ¡°Silent House.¡± This was followed by a ¡°warm-up¡± concert at the Thekla, a moored ship in Bristol on March 19.

Prior to the album¡¯s release, the lead single ¡°Don¡¯t Stop Now¡± was released in Australia on June 16, 2007 and in the United Kingdom on June 25, 2007. The album release shortly followed. The reformed band also performed at the Australian part of the Live Earth concerts in July 2007.

It¡¯s hard to imagine, after listening to Intriguer (2010), that Crowded House could be mostly labeled a one-trick pony - an ¡®80s group who had a few hits and then disappeared.  However, the New Zealand band is great at creating the perfect pop song.  Maybe they could be seen as a bit too Beatle-esque, but the fact that the voice of Finn that sounds as good today as it did thirty years ago, and the songs could fit in today as well as they could in the ¡®80s ¨C or the ¡®60s, or the 2020¡㱠- speaks volume for the band¡¯s longevity.  The album closes with the line, ¡°Let¡¯s admit the world don¡¯t care about us, It¡¯s acting like we don¡¯t exit . . . sweet dreams, make waves, find bliss.¡±  We care, Crowded House, more than ever.


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