When Neil Finn put Split Enz on hold for the much more straight-ahead pop sound of Crowded House, it shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it probably was. The frantic experimentation of Split Enz certainly differs from the simplistic sentimentality of this self-titled record from 1986. That’s a given. As time wore on, though, Split Enz did become noticeably more pop-oriented. Crowded House, if anything, served as the end product of Finn’s more accessible tendencies within his artistic capabilities. You can hear the transition from “History Never Repeats” to anything on this record as easily as you understand the flow of this record’s ambition.
The opening track on the record is “Mean to Me”, which serves as the icing on the cake as far as Finn’s complete transition from art rocker to pop star. It’s also important to note that he sounds as if he’s been freed on this song and this record. You can feel the relief of being the part of a much simpler project in every note that he utters throughout this record. There is a freedom, a simplistic freedom that carries this record’s strongest moments. Keep in mind that there is an emphasis here on ‘strongest’. There is a certain amount of filler scattered throughout this record. Fortunately, this record houses “Something So Strong”, which is without question one of the most blissful pop songs of the ’80s. This is track is only to be outdone on the record by “I Walk Away”, a pretty similar track that just happens to do it a little better. Obviously, you can’t talk about this record without mentioning “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. This track, though loved by many less-than-demanding pop radio listeners of the decade, just seems to be a little off the mark. It’s an okay song, but it doesn’t share the sense of freedom that the two prior mentioned tracks do. There’s nothing wrong with the track, but this fact remains apparent. Is it the worst romantic ballad of the decade? Certainly not. Is it the best? Far from it.
At the end of its duration, this record leaves a mostly positive impression on the senses. It’s pretty good. It’s far from perfect, though, and one of the reasons for this is that Finn seems to have left his knack for quirk and adventure behind. Yes, there is plenty of bliss on this record, but too often the songs sacrifice any sense of adventure just to squeeze in a few more guaranteed spots on the radio. Some of the charisma is missing. It’s unfortunate to say, there are a couple of particular tracks that really shine. Another component of this criticism, though, is the fact that it’s difficult to feel too strongly for any kind of derision of the product. The uninspired moments aren’t usually too painful. For this reason, many of the record is easy to forgive. Finn and the band were looking to create a crafty ’80s pop master formula with this release and, ultimately, they don’t succeed. At all. These guys aren’t Marshall Crenshaw. What they are is a mostly solid band that, when they’re at their best, are pretty good at what they do. For many, this will be enough. It’s easy to be cynical with bands like Crowded House, but the ends rarely justify the means in this pursuit. What crime have they committed? If nothing else, you at least have to commend the two standout tracks mentioned above. You could do worse than this.