Yesterday, we announced the recipients of the Seventh Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards! Unsurprisingly, the deluxe reissues from Crowded House were among them! Today, Mike takes an in-depth look at these stellar reissues!
Depending on how you look at it, there are anywhere from seven (albums) to 14 (discs) to more than 200 (songs) reasons why Universal Music's Crowded House reissues stand tall in this writer's mind as the best catalog music campaign of 2016. But in the end, all it took was one.
Close your eyes for a moment. Breathe in and out. Think about the calendar you're about to take down from the wall. Consider the people and the things that made you smile, the hardships you've overcome, the times you emerged from adversity standing but beaten and could do nothing more than offer a shoulder to a crying friend--or take the shoulder offered before you. What's the one thing you wanted to hear, to feel like your troubles wouldn't last forever?
For me, I heard it at the end of the deluxe edition bonus disc of 1989's Temple of Low Men, the New Zealand group's sophomore album, just before a live rendition of "Better Be Home Soon," recorded in Melbourne in 1992, faded out. "Live in hope!" the eternally youthful Neil Finn commanded as he bade farewell to the audience. In three words, all the gloom and doom of 2016 lifted, as only Crowded House could do it.
And that's Crowded House in a nutshell, isn't it? Here is a group that, for three decades, has offered consistently beautiful, charming, idiosyncratic, smart pop music. Without ever explicitly spelling it out, Finn's music and lyrics speak to our wishes and aspirations--the audio equivalent of the first warm day of the year, the hug from a partner, that sort of thing. Could a catalogue project ever capture all of those things about the band?
That it does is an astounding achievement. The scope of the Crowded House reissue campaign--2CD deluxe editions of each of the band's seven albums (including 2000's rarities/outtakes set Afterglow), bundled with extraordinary demos, outtakes, B-sides, live cuts and packaged in a princely manner--is hard to comprehend. Harder still is parsing all the material offered, and putting it in the proper context of a band that has aged like a bottle of spirits without ever losing its spark.
Perhaps, ultimately, the best way to regard it is as Finn himself does (as told to The Second Disc in an exclusive interview): "part of a continuum" of his total work. Indeed, only some of the bonus material can truly be credited to Crowded House: solo demos abound, and an early studio demo of "Hole in the River" from the band's first album, cut in 1984 with Finn, drummer Paul Hester (who provides a spirited rap refrain!), keyboardist Eddie Rayner and bassist Nigel Griggs, is essentially a Split Enz outtake.
And yet, the commonness of Finn on his own makes you appreciate the brilliant people he surrounded himself with in the studio. There's nimble bassist Nick Seymour, present on every record both sonically and visually (every reissue features incisive commentary on his spectacular album artwork); producers like Mitchell Froom (who added captivating R&B-style flourishes to the band's 1986 self-titled debut, as best heard on the smash hits "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong") and Youth (who turned 1993's Together Alone in to a sumptuous beating heart of a record--arguably their best); multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart, who helped expand the group's sonic palette in the mid-'90s and '00s; and Neil's brother Tim, whose contributions to 1991's Woodface avoid the easy traps of Split Enz Mk. II.
Then there are the band's two drummers, known well to fans and made even more respectable in these expanded presentations. The late Paul Hester's majestic lo-fi swing is a gem polished nicely by the remastering of the original records, and his off-the-wall humor and banter shines through much of the bonus material. (A session run-through of Temple's "Sister Madly," and the accompanying liner notes, reveal that Hessie's charisma nearly spilled over into a tongue-in-cheek solo project called We Like Loving Ladies.) And Matt Sherrod, who had the thankless task of replacing Finn's fallen comrade on the reunion albums Time on Earth (2007) and Intriguer (2010), is worth a second listen on these new deluxe editions. (Both of the albums are, really.)
Look, it's hard to put exactly into words what makes these reissues work as well as they do. Twelve hours of audio material from such a stellar band, essentially at once and with great packaging to boot, is a lot to sit with (but due credit to compiler/archivist Jeremy Ansell for doing it to perfection). But it really does come back to living in hope. It's something I wish for other fans--of Crowded House and our pleasant little web space--every time I draft a post: in the end, all we want is for music that's made us feel good, presented in a way that honors those feelings. For my money, Crowded House did it better than anyone else did this year--the ultimate exclamation point to an already stunning discography.
Listen to Crowded House here on Spotify!
Don't miss the full list of recipients of The Second Disc's 2016 Gold Bonus Disc Awards right here!