Crowded Once More 

Ex-members of Crowded House turned the death of a drummer into new life for a seminal Aussie pop group.

Crowded House was supposed to have played its last show November 24, 1996, on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Fronted by Kiwi singer Neil Finn, the band was known in the States for hits "Something So Strong" and "Don't Dream It's Over" from its eponymous 1986 debut. For Aussies, though, the band had become a kind of a pop institution. Consequently, its amicable dissolution — triggered, Finn says, by his need to get free from the "neurotic beast" the band had become — was a bit of a national tragedy.

More than a decade later, Crowded House has reunited even though Finn — long regarded as one of the finest songsmiths in the business, a skill that made his solo career almost as successful as his run with Split Enz in the '80s and Crowded House after that — had no interest in a reunion tour.

"I don't think we would've done it given any other circumstances, because it just wouldn't have felt right," he says from a Toronto hotel room, referring to the 2005 suicide of the band's drummer Paul Hester. "I got reconnected with Nick [bassist Nick Seymour] in the shadow of Paul's passing and, in a way, our feelings about the whole thing grew and became amplified by playing together. It led us to the point where we felt we were in a band again.

"We didn't want to do it again," he adds. "We just had the heart to do it again."

That's not to say that in their mutual grief, Finn and Seymour shook hands and, in a display of soulful healing, decided to hit the studio. It was much more organic. Finn was working on his third solo album and invited Seymour to help out. After their first session, Finn knew better and gave Seymour the call that reunited Crowded House along with guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart, who had toured with the band in the '90s, and newcomer Matt Sherrod — a former drummer for Beck who came by way of a series of auditions determined to build "a band and not just a brand" around the Crowded House moniker.

The reunion resulted in the band's fifth album Time on Earth, a heavy, sober affair adorned with Finn's oblique lyrics that somehow manage to elevate the post-tragedy melancholy into something hopeful. Though few tracks spring with the energy of their earlier work, this can be attributed to the growth Finn has experienced as a songwriter since his days with Split Enz' and Crowded House's initial pop declarations.

Finn was determined not to allow Hester's death cloud his outlook. That, he says, "would be a double blow, really. There's no trying to make good of what happened. There's nothing good about it, but we can try to proceed in a positive way ourselves, bearing in mind our time is short and there a lot of people in this world to hold onto."

And that's how Neil Finn went from former to current frontman of seminal Australian pop band Crowded House. "We are existing and we're enjoying the fact that we're existing in a very real way, so we'll definitely be recording again," he says. "That's not to preclude any other combinations. I've made a habit out of switching gears over the course of my career, and that may be confusing at times, but it's given me a lot of breadth and inspiration over the years.

"But Crowded House is back," he concludes. "Yeah, we're here."

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