This is a special birthday review for my sister who turns “30 something” today! Happy birthday kid! By coincidence she got this album for Christmas three days ago…
Crowded House remain one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 80’s and 90’s. Formed from the ashes of Split Enz, they did two successful albums before Woodface. Unfortunately the songs Neil Finn wrote for Woodface were rejected by the record company, so he asked his brother Tim (also ex-Split Enz) if he could use some songs they wrote together for a future project. Tim said OK, and joined Crowded House as an official member to boot. That partnership was only to last one album, but what an album it was! It was arguably their most acclaimed record to date.
The packed-to-the-gills 15 track CD commences with “Chocolate Cake”. The production is incredible on this. The snare drum has an excellent snap to it. Neil and Tim harmonize perfectly on this confection of pop perfection. It’s a piano based jam with melodic hooks galore. There’s a smoking harmonica solo and cool lyrics, immediately reeling you in. This tune rocks. “It’s Only Natural” is a little softer, an acoustic track more like what I was used to before from Crowded House. It’s an immediate song, a timeless classic. Neil and Tim’s harmony vocals seal the deal. Too bad isn’t wasn’t a smash hit single around the world, because it could have been, if it didn’t come out right in the middle of the grunge downturn!
“Fall At Your Feet” may well be the best song here. You know this one. If you don’t, all you have to do is play it once and you won’t forget the chorus. Neil wrote this one alone, but it is a major triumph of songwriting perfection. The plaintive chorus is one that many singers wish they had written. It is followed by the upbeat “Tall Trees”, a brief irresistible rocker. Too bad it’s over in only 2:20! It’s pretty guitar heavy for Crowded House. This gives way to the Eastern sitar opening of “Weather With You”, which was the big hit. The Finn brothers surely have a knack for a chorus. “Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you,” and I can’t get it out of my head. This is a very 90’s sounding hit single. I’m sure Bono was pissed that he didn’t write it. He probably would have ruined it, anyway.
A funky vibe introduces “Whispers and Moans”, which took me by surprise. I like a bit of funky bass every now and again, and then some horns turn it up a notch at the halfway point. I have to admit, the song was starting to lose me until the horns kicked in! It grows on you.
The party stops there for now. The soft brushes on “Four Seasons in One Day” tell us that the next song is a slow one. “Four Seasons” sounds like a great lost John Lennon composition, with its harpsichord and children’s choir singing in the background. I’ll single out drummer Paul Hester as an MVP here for his delicate touch, making his 2005 death that much sadder. The drummer is the foundation, and although “Four Seasons” is an outstanding track in any universe, Hester helps make it that little bit extra special. “Four Season in One Day” is pure composition and performance excellent, absolutely above the bar.
“There Goes God” combines a funky beat with an exotic riff and lots of harmonica. It’s definitely a cool mix. As weird as the song is, it still contains one of those patented Finn/Finn choruses. Then “Fame Is” has a bombastic sound. It’s a brief pop rocker, a fast head-nodder to get you out of your seat. This leads into the gentle strings of “All I Ask”, a smokey slow waltz. One of the strengths of Woodface is its diversity. Each song has an idiosyncratic Crowded House sound, but many veer far and wide in many musical directions. “All I Ask” is unlike any of the previous.
Another great chorus is the centerpiece of “As Sure as I Am”. Accordion in the background loans it a folksy feel, as do the lyrics about the rhinos going extinct. (Sad that 23 years later the rhinos are no better off.) Drummer Paul Hester contributed “Italian Plastic”, an interesting title to say the least. It’s anchored by cool guitar licks, and more great melodies, as strong as those that the Finns write.
The album closer, “How Will You Go”, is one very familiar to me. Marillion covered it on their excellent 2001 live album, A Piss-up in a Brewery. They are acknowledged Finn fans. I can see why they chose “How Will You Go”, as it gave Steve Hogarth a chance to belt out some killer melodies. Fantastic song, not a single but shoulda coulda woulda!
But it’s not really the ending, as a joke song called “I’m Still Here” occupies the coveted “hidden track” slot! Sounds like they’re trying to be The Clash! Why not? (Hester wrote this hidden track, too.)
I’m very impressed with Woodface. It’s easy to listen to, but there’s more there than just pleasant melodies. There’s vocal brilliance. There are instrumental passages that are intricately composed and performed. There are also great lyrics, all topped with perfect production and a cracking drum sound. Some songs are more memorable than others, but give it time. Woodface is a grower.
Marillion’s version of “How Will You Go”: