Reunited in grief -- and joy too

Crowded House

Time on Earth (ATO Records)

* * * 1/2

POP music reunions are, more often than not, driven by commerce and/or nostalgia, so the fact that the resurrection of this wondrous pure-pop band from New Zealand grew out of shared personal loss gives this one a far richer subtext than most.

Founding members Neil Finn, the group’s lead singer and chief songwriter, and bassist Nick Seymour are joined in the new lineup by longtime adjunct member Mark Hart and newly recruited drummer Matt Sherrod, who takes over for Paul Hester, the band’s original drummer whose suicide in 2005 pulled Finn and Seymour back together, first as friends, then as musicians.

From the time Finn became a latter-day member of Split Enz through the birth of Crowded House to his Finn Brothers and solo recordings, his music has always gracefully walked the line between joy and sadness. In “Time on Earth” (in stores Tuesday), the melancholy is palpable and heavy, and although everything doesn’t revolve directly around the loss of a loved one, that theme surfaces in several of these eminently hummable songs.


Resolution in life can be an elusive thing; fortunately, Finn is a master at expressing ambiguity, lyrically and musically. The leadoff track, “Nobody Wants To,” wrestles with life situations that don’t wrap up neatly, often leaving participants uneasy or even unwilling to address questions that remain. “Even a Child,” written by Johnny Marr and Finn, delves into the sticky realm of broken promises. The album-closing “People Are Like Suns” both celebrates and laments the finite nature of life, whose beauty and sadness Finn treats not so much as flip sides of a coin but as intertwined threads of a single fabric.

Where Hester contributed rhythmic surprise and fleetness, Sherrod brings solidity and power that anchor the whole affair with a reassuring gravity. Finn’s voice, haunting yet fetching as ever, manifests the yearning, the ache and the pleasure in feeling everything available to humans in their all-too-fleeting time on Earth.

-- Randy Lewis

Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair ) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released, except as indicated.


Quick Spins


“Orchestra of Wolves” (Epitaph)

Buzzsaw band with a buzz from Britain gives a pretty good kick to its old-school punk and thrash but shoots its foot clean off with some grossly sexist lyrics. (Richard Cromelin)

Gogol Bordello

“Super Taranta!” (SideOneDummy)

The musicianship of this New York-based gypsy-punk-cabaret collective is often dazzling, creating a culture-clash fusion of dub, flamenco and other styles that reflects the dizzying immigrant experience. And the authority-defying mind-set and wry outsider observations of its leader, Ukraine native Eugene Hutz, are certainly thought-provoking. Yet “Super Taranta!” boils down to an hour’s worth of relentless oompah-thumpa. Definitely an acquired taste. (Natalie Nichols)

Pharaohe Monch

“Desire” (SRC/Universal)

More of a griot than a hit maker, Pharaohe Monch has quietly toiled in the fringes of hip-hop since the early 1990s. His third studio album levels criticisms at a gun-glorifying society, American foreign policy and other debauchery over jazzy, avant-garde beats. Like a hip-hop Michael Moore. (Serena Kim)

The Nels Cline Singers

“Draw Breath” (Cryptogramophone)

From despair to optimism, guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer-electronicist Scott Amendola tell an emotional story, their immediacy obliterating preconceptions of instruments. Sounds that recall water and animals (no “singers”) remind us we’re part of nature; change is constant. It’s not comfortable, but art’s that way. (Greg Burk)

Kim Richey

“Chinese Boxes” (Vanguard)

The singer-songwriter’s first new album in five years offers crisp, melodic pop and folk-rock songs of frustrated, unrealized and finally satisfied romance. Producer Giles Martin (son of George and co-producer of the Beatles’ “Love” soundtrack) deftly shades the hushed “The Absence of Your Company” with acoustic hues and gives the Aimee Mann-esque “Jack and Jill” a Beatle-bright bounce. Still, the collection proves more agreeable than memorable. (N.N.)


“Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” (Merge)

The much-admired indie-pop band conjures a disquieting air with a dark, seductive brand of funk. It’s music with a light touch and a heavy heart. (R.C.)