In a decade where most music was aimed at eight-year-olds, Crowded House were a band out of time. The unassuming Antipodeans had no image to speak of, no manifesto or world domination plan. Instead, they created album after album of resolutely adult songs. Few bands cite them as an influence, yet you’ll find at least one Crowded House album in the record collection of everyone from Goths to grandparents.
Afterglow is the inevitable post-split collection of rarities and outtakes – in other words, the songs that weren’t considered good enough to appear on any of the albums. In the case of most groups, that would be reason enough to run away. Even a bad Crowded House song, however, wipes the floor with most bands’ output, and there are enough gems on Afterglow to make it worthwhile.
Neil Finn always had rockist tendencies, and the opening I Am In Love shows a heavier side to the band that’s largely absent from their usual work. It’s pleasant enough, but on record it lacks the fire of a live performance. Sacred Cow and You Can Touch bring us back to more familiar ground, with the layered harmonies and Beatle-esque bass lines that characterise the band’s more popular work. It’s great stuff, and leads into the haunting Help Is Coming – the sort of song that makes reviewers reach for the phrase “glacial beauty”.
It’s not all good news, however. In a move that smacks of punter-fleecing, Recurring Dream appears again, despite having been unearthed for the recent Best Of collection. There’s also an acoustic version of Private Universe that’s essentially the version from Together Alone without the drums. The problem with many of the songs is the lyrical content – many of the tracks take a gorgeous tune and ruin it with “will this do?” words. I Love You Dawn is a mawkish love letter to Neil Finn’s wife, while My Telly’s Gone Bung is a novelty song written by the drummer. Lester is the nadir, a song about Neil Finn’s dog that will have even the biggest Crowded House fan reaching for the fast-forward button.
The closing song, Time Immemorial, may date from the sessions for the Woodface album, but it could well be a parting shot from Finn to the rest of his band. “It was good while it lasted, but now it has gone”, he sings. “The house that we live in is falling apart”. It’s one of the strongest songs on the album, but the chorused guitars and sweeping harmonies can’t disguise the bitterness of the lyrics. It’s a curious choice of song, ending what is presumably the band’s final release on an uncharacteristically sour note.
Fans of the band will certainly enjoy most of Afterglow, mawkish lyrical content and all. If you’ve never understood the appeal of Crowded House, however, this album won’t change your opinion.