Lester Records/BMG Rights Management (US) 538653062
It’s been 11 years since the Australian band Crowded House released its last album, Intriguer, but the group’s primary songwriter and singer, Neil Finn, has kept busy. The New Zealander added two solo albums to his discography, Dizzy Heights (2014) and Out of Silence (2017), as well as a collaboration with Australian songwriter Paul Kelly (Goin’ Your Way, 2013). In 2018, he made Lightsleeper with his eldest son, Liam Finn, and joined Fleetwood Mac after the band fired Lindsey Buckingham. Finn also released a digital live album, Live: Solo at the Seymour Centre, 2010, last year as a benefit for Support Act, an Australian charity providing crisis services for performers and other workers in the music industry.
Neil Finn and bassist Nick Seymour are the two remaining original members of Crowded House, and on the group’s seventh album, Dreamers Are Waiting, they are joined by Liam Finn’s brother, Elroy, on drums, and keyboardist Mitchell Froom. Longtime fans will remember Froom as the producer of the first three Crowded House albums, among many other recordings over the last 35 years. The full band shares the production credit for Dreamers Are Waiting.
Acoustic guitars and keyboards create a relaxed, dreamlike background for Neil Finn’s vocals on “Bad Times Good,” which the three Finns wrote with help from Seymour. As the song develops, the harmony vocals become more layered and grander, and instrumental details accumulate to create a full and involving sound that demands—and rewards—several plays to fully grasp. The tune’s sonic richness sets the tone for the disc.
Froom joins the rest of the band as cowriter of “Playing with Fire,” a wonderfully bouncy pop confection that rocks solidly, thanks to Elroy Finn’s energetic drums and Liam’s edgy guitar. A trumpet line in the chorus, produced on an electronic keyboard, is an exquisite touch that pulls the song together and adds some whimsy—in contrast to the lyrics, which express some frustration with the pandemic lockdown without giving in to despair.
Neil Finn is still the primary songwriter for Crowded House, and the album illustrates his firm grasp of the qualities that make intelligent, well-crafted pop so memorable and enjoyable. The humor and eccentricity of “Sweet Tooth” reminded me of Paul McCartney’s early post-Beatles efforts—Ram, in particular—and “Whatever You Want” jumps forward to ’80s new wave for its sound. Neither song feels dated, however, and Finn’s seemingly effortless talent for writing great melodies is aided by a voice that is still fluid and agile.
Finn cowrote the bittersweet “Too Good for This World” with his brother, Tim, extending a songwriting collaboration that goes back to their time together in the band Split Enz in the ’70s and ’80s. Liam and Elroy each cowrote a song with their dad, and Liam gets a solo writing credit on “Goodnight Everyone.” The latter suggests that Liam will carry on the Finn legacy of songcraft.
The lovely closing song, “Deeper Down,” opens with an image of a dead whale washing up on the shore, but is ultimately hopeful. “When you think it’s getting rough / On the surface high above,” Finn sings, “I’m always reaching out for love / A little deeper down.” Dreamers Are Waiting looks at the occasional difficulties of love, aging, and passing through a difficult time in history—sometimes with dismay, but always without cynicism. “Playing with Fire” and “Whatever You Want” are the only tunes that lean toward politics, and neither gets bogged down in bitterness.
Dreamers Are Waiting is loaded with sonic delights—slightly buried harmony vocals, various keyboard effects, and clever guitar lines—that propel the songs without overwhelming them. Attentive listening reveals more with each play, but I didn’t find the music to be busy or the sound to be fatiguing. The sound has a tremendous amount of low-frequency energy, and I do wish Seymour’s inspired bass lines, which give the songs a powerful foundation, had a bit more focus and snap.
Some tunes on Dreamers Are Waiting stayed with me after the first play, but a few, including “Whatever You Want” and “Real Life Woman,” took several listens for me to appreciate them fully. Even though Neil Finn’s bandmates collaborated with him on some of the tunes, his is the presiding songwriting force on the album, and he continues to be one of the best songwriters of his generation.
. . . Joseph Taylor