Crowded House founder Neil Finn once remarked, “I don't really like being famous; what I like is a song being famous.” Accordingly, this year's comeback album — after an 11-year break and written in the long shadow of original drummer Paul Hester's 2005 suicide — began with songs, not a business plan. And it does credit to the fondly remembered Crowded House name, even though only four tracks were recorded by the full line-up — Finn (from New Zealand), co-founder/bassist Nick Seymour (Australia), long-time keyboard player Mark Hart (USA) and new drummer Matt Sherrod (USA, formerly with R.E.M. and Beck).
While the plaintively chiming guitars, solemn pianos and rich vocal harmonies are familiar, Time On Earth carries a heavier emotional load than any of its four predecessors because it's about love and death. Hester may be most specifically remembered in "She Called Up": “She called up and gave me the news/ It made me sad, sad, sad.” But mortality's intimations also haunt the lost-at-sea metaphors of "Nobody Wants To" and "You Are the One to Make Me Cry," and the beautiful, lonesome meditations of "A Sigh," "Say That Again" and "Silent House" (Finn's co-write with the Dixie Chicks).
Although a dozen earlier songs may endure longer than anything here, Time On Earth's power lies in consistent elegance and clarity as it unflinchingly explores strong, complicated emotions.