Crowded House: Never Finnished

Even after 25 years, they still find something new in every performance.

One thing that didn't change for Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, during his band's decade-long hiatus, was his near-obsession with his lyric writing. Bassist Nick Seymour refers to Finn as an "aesthete" and to his songwriting style as "still-life"; as he puts it, "If you knew how much Neil agonizes over getting it right, oh my God-and it's the same on every record we make, it's like right up to the last minute he'll be changing a single word . . . 'Archer's Arrows,' that lyric changed a lot," he says, referring to a cut from their new album, Intriguer. "And we're doing it quite differently now live than the way we recorded it. The musicians' lament is that you always describe the songs better on the road than in the studio. And it can be really frustrating, especially if the song is now better."

Less elegiac than 2007's Time on Earth, Intriguer sounds a lot, at first listen, like Finn, Neil's 1995 duo with his brother Tim: casual yet intimately focused, deep-textured and un-glossy. (Of the title, Seymour says, "We tried to find [one] that doesn't sound like a film or a book. Or a headline. Or the name of a café.") Neil's insinuating melodies still float atop, or more often within, the instrumental settings; the way sonic components are carefully placed around one another to create almost three-dimensional, foreground/background effects makes the term still-life a good description of the music as well as the lyrics. "Either Side of the World" brings back the open-air, South Pacific feel that's always been one of the band's most distinctive flavors. Acoustic piano has never played so prominent a role on a CH record, spotlighting keyboardist Mark Hart in "Even If" and "Elephants."

In CH's quarter-century, on/off history, there's been no contradiction between an intense devotion to craft and detail and their continuing, improvisatory exploration; between the anything-can-happen atmosphere of their shows and an appreciation of their back catalog, what Seymour calls "the nostalgic aspect of the Crowded House experience." In reforming the group and seeking a new drummer after Paul Hester's 2005 death, versatility was vital, says Seymour, since "we'll try cover versions as well if the moment takes us. We were in New York about a month ago, and David Byrne got up onstage. We played 'Once in a Lifetime' and 'Road to Nowhere.' We are very adaptable."

But even more importantly, Finn, Seymour, and Hart sought a musician who'd complement both their method of developing songs in rehearsal and their spontaneity in performing them in concert. Seymour enjoys "the subtlety of the new chemistry" with drummer Matt Sherrod, and praises his intuition and imagination. "He's much more of a soul drummer than Paul was. When we auditioned Matt"—one of 50 or so drummers the band tried out—"we weren't exactly trying to replace Paul; it was more a case of finding somebody that was their own man, or woman, and who would intuitively find their way within the jamming experience of the band, because we do jam a lot. And even though Neil will come to rehearsals with verse and chorus ideas . . . and has a fairly strong opinion about how the lyrics sing and the rhythm that should support them, we don't want a drummer who's only gonna play what we tell him to play.

"We normally will have periods of exploration onstage in the middle of songs, and Matt contributes beautifully. He's now got a little electro-setup attached to his drum kit where he will bring other essences to the percussion, kind of little curveballs for us. He really loves his kraut rock and his electro. He does make playing live very exciting from night to night."

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