Twentieth-century Crowded House is difficult to assail -- all those perfect melodies and would-be McCartney tunes. It was dreamy and then -- a decade before the suicide of drummer Paul Hester -- it was over. The re-formed, 21st-century Crowded House, however, has not been as easy to embrace. The melodies are more complex. The songs are still tuneful but unusually dense, not as sticky. Frequently, it pained me to say after listening to "Time on Earth," they've just been dull.
"Intriguer" is intriguing, but in remarkably -- perhaps troublesome -- ways.
The fuzzy bass, the clever use of a vocoder effect underneath Neil Finn's still-creamy voice on the opening "Saturday Sun" -- these are nice touches that make the House look more modern than it has in years. The rest of the album is surprisingly light, if not lightweight. The songs float by on moderate tempos at most, on arrangements that seem carefully constructed to sneak their inventiveness by you. Then sometimes they erupt suddenly -- in wailing guitar and shrieking at the end of the placid "Isolation," or the whispery Beach Boys harmonies on the jet-lagged "Either Side of the World" that collapse into a banging, Oasis refrain. The lyrics are almost as challenging, odes of restlessness and emotional conflict; "Amsterdam" begins as a story of an exhausting day of tourism and somehow morphs into a worrisome rumination on "the darkest days of a free man."
It's as if nothing in Finn's life has quite been the same -- quite so simple -- since he wrote about how fleeting it is in his 2001 song "Anytime" ("There's nothing safe about this life / I could go at anytime"). There's more to life than melody, it seems, and "Intriguer" sounds weary of the hunt but not ready to give it up.