Review: A Renovated Crowded House Returns with 'Dreamers Are Waiting'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 9, 2021

Neil Finn's career in pop music has involved family ever since he joined older brother Tim's band Split Enz while still in his teens and began writing international hits. Later on, Crowded House — the band Neil founded with Nick Seymour and Paul Hester after Split Enz had run its course — welcomed Tim into the fold for its third (and most successful) album, 1991's "Woodface."

Crowded House ran its course in turn, dissolving in 1996... only to re-form in 2007 (with an album that year, "Time on Earth," and another in 2010, "Intriguer"), and then reform again in 2020, adding and losing members with each iteration. Between times, Neil pursued solo projects, recorded two albums with Tim, brought together various friends and family for two charity-minded albums recorded as the supergroup 7 Worlds Collide, and — almost as a lark — put out an album with wife Sharon under the name "Pajama Club."

But even Neil's solo albums have brought kin on board, as with his 2017 album "Out of Silence," which featured his son Elroy. (Not to mention four weekly sessions, broadcast online, in which Neil and Elroy, with a studio full of musicians, rehearsed and then recorded "Out of Silence" in between welcoming guest performers — Tim Finn and Neil's L.A.-based son Liam Finn among them). The following year Neil and Liam Finn collaborated on the album "Lightsleeper."

It's no surprise, then, that the latest version of Crowded House turns out to be more or less a single-family dwelling, headed by Neil and featuring sons Liam and Elroy. Founding Crowded House member Nick Seymour is part of the lineup too, but he's basically family at this point, as is longtime producer Mitchell Froom. More family show up in peripheral roles: Tim co-writes one of the twelve new tracks, and Sharon Finn contributes backing vocals.

The result? The new album, "Dreamers Are Waiting," is more "Intriguer" than classic Crowded House fare like "Temple of Low Men," but that's just fine. Neil has grown over the years, his style shifting into different sonic and textural palettes, and if you thought Froom would pull him back to his '80s stylings, you're in for a surprise. Froom's influence is felt throughout the new material, particularly on the album's singles ("Whatever You Want," "To the Island," and "Playing with Fire"), but while the foundations remain sturdy and familiar, Crowded House 2021 has been thoroughly renovated.

Opener "Bad Times Good" sets the mood. A collaboration between the three Finns — Elroy, Liam, and Neil — plus Seymour, the track possesses a classic Neil Finn shape and melodic sensibility, albeit by way of Liam's more trance-lounge tendencies.

That same ethereal sensibility returns on Liam's tuneful, melancholic "Show Me the Way," which does, actually, sound like Neil Finn in one of his more downbeat moods. The kid further proves he's got his father's musical DNA with the energetic, cantering sound of the poignant "Goodnight Everyone," a song that's packed with the sort of yearning that brimmed over in "Red Wine Bottle" (a contribution from Liam to the 7 Worlds Collide album "The Sun Came Out"). Liam and his dad share songwriting duties on "Start of Something," a ballad with some R&B motifs that could have fit in nicely with the set Neil wrote for "Out of Silence."

Tim Finn joins in, co-writing, with Neil, "Too Good for This World," a slightly bluegrassy stroll that's easy on the ears and sounds like a Finn Brothers opus, but it's also an unmistakeable echo of some of Tim's earlier solo work.

"Playing with Fire" is credited to all five of the band's current members, and though the bulk of the album was recorded before the pandemic this track nicely captures the tenor of the times with lines like, "Lately I've been lying frozen in my bed / Feeling like the end isn't far away" and "My wife is wild in quarantine." A '60s sort of vibe to the backing vocals in the chorus makes the social commentary all the more acute. This song marks Froom's only songwriting credit on the album, and while the dominant flavor is Neil, a definite Froom aura lingers over it.

"Whatever You Want," on the other hand, sounds like Froom should have had a hand in it, especially in its complex polyrhythmic architecture, but the sole songwriting credit belongs to Neil. The lyrics are definitely Neil's, though, as he reflects on the dangers of the moment's ascendant political reality: Ignorant authoritarians and their reckless yes-men populate this ditty. Jaunty and fizzy, it's a song that beholds a grim horizon and decides to party, not unlike Neil's Pajama Club track "TNT for Two."

Similarly, Neil claims sole songwriting credit for "To the Island," and while the melodic lines and song's sleek, sinuous structure is classic Neil Finn, there's a sense of mischief — and slightly retro feel about the chorus — that you feel must have come from (or been inspired by) his bandmates.

Touches of such nostalgia recur elsewhere. "Sweet Tooth" might be the track that most sounds like old Crowded House; "Real Life Woman" could have been a Top 40 ballad from decades ago and has an almost generic soft-rock feel (could Neil have spent a little too much time touring with Fleetwood Mac?). "Deeper Down," oddly enough, sounds like a throwback to peak Scissor Sisters, and it works a treat.

Son Elroy Finn pens "Love Isn't Hard at All" alongside his dad. The tune is a brightly colored confection that smacks of cinnamon and an afternoon spent on the fairgrounds, and it tempts you to go find his 2019 self-titled solo album, "Elroy."

Like the tracks from "Out of Silence," and not unlike Neil's 2001 solo album "One Nil," these songs have a glittery, transient nature; the longest doesn't quite reach four minutes, with three or three and a half minutes being a more typical duration. They show up, say their piece, and then are gone, often leaving behind a yearning for more and occasionally imparting a sense of having caught a fleeting glimpse of something unusual, even extravagant. In all, the dozen tacks amount to a tight, zippy 42 minutes.

"Dreamers are Waiting" was released on June 4.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.