Loss of fifth band member doesn't tear Crowded House down

November 29, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Crowded House isn't quite so crowded these days.Although the antipodean pop group started its U.S. tour as a quintet -- Neil Finn, Tim Finn, Paul Hester and Nick Seymour, plus tour keyboardist Mark Hart -- its lineup has since been reduced to a quartet. Tim Finn, who joined the group during the recording of its current album, "Woodface," apparently decided to leave the House and return to his solo career.

Don't jump to any tabloid-headline conclusions, though. According to Neil, the remaining Finn, it wasn't a case of SIBLING RIVALRY SPLITS POP GROUP. In fact, he insists it was quite a friendly break.

"It was, rather," he says over the phone from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio, "the typical amicable parting."

But why was there a parting in the first place?

"It was because it didn't feel right to us onstage," he explains. "I mean, we had a great desire to see this work. Because all these songs that Tim and I wrote, we wanted them to have their best shot."

But because all of the band's older material was written and arranged for a trio (with occasional keyboards), the presence of a fifth player left "large chunks of the set where Tim didn't really have much to do. We didn't like it, and Tim didn't feel that comfortable, either. We realized that it was something that we'd probably never get to work."

Still, anyone who has heard "Woodface" can understand why the group gave it a try. Not only do the songs on this album boast the same classic lines and buoyant, guitar-pop arrangements as the Crowded House's first two albums, but there is something especially magical about the way the Finn brothers' voices work together, a blend which brings the most out of Neil's bright, clear tenor.

You'd almost think they'd gone out of their way to exploit that sound, but Neil says it came about naturally. "I can't go that high; my brother's got a higher voice, actually," he admits. "I guess there's a certain register that I know I've got where my voice is strong. But my initial inclination is to find a melody where you can just sing out."

Sweet as its sound might be, the group's material can be biting and acerbic, as "Chocolate Cake" -- the first single from "Woodface" -- made evident. With lyrics that laugh at America's relentless avarice and unslakable hunger for sugary diversion, the song makes wicked fun of everyone from Tammy Faye Bakker to Liberace. Yet despite the song's obvious point, Neil Finn owns up to a certain admiration for America's attitude toward wealth and fame.

"America is extremely unself-conscious about displaying its wealth," he says. "Being successful was not cause for any kind of slight embarrassment as it is in our part of the world. There's a slight sort of nervousness about becoming successful, or embarrassment about you rising too far above your station or something. It's peer pressure, sort of.

"So, yeah, I actually regard it as being essentially a good thing that there's no guilt associated with being successful or having wealth in this country. I think it's almost a better attitude than the one we have [in Australia]."

Crowded House

When: Nov. 29, 8 p.m.

Where: Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University.

Tickets: $21.50 and $17.50 (available at the door).

Call: (410) 481-6000.

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