Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Dear Robyn,

I did a naughty thing this week. I splurged some cash on a CD. Not sure if you have ever heard Crowded House or Muse before but being two of my favourite acts (and Neil Finn and Matt Bellamy my favourite songwriters), I thought it about time I bothered to review their latest albums. This year has seen new releases from both of them – “Intriguer” from the House and “The Resistance” from Muse.

The albums have a few similarities. Both Matt and Neil own recording studios and the albums were recorded therein, releases came with great DVDs, both have stunning artwork and both are written by excellent songwriters who are articulate, intelligent and have a knack for extracting emotions from the dark fringes of your imagination that you didn’t know resided in you (the whole point of writing songs in my opinion). Being a recording nut of course I have to have a serious drool over any studios… I like Matt’s the most being all neat and tidy and seriously “pwoper” and all but Neil’s looks very “intriguing” with an oddball artsy touch you don’t expect in a studio. I hear it’s world class and the website is super cool.

Years ago when Crowded House didn’t even exist, I was a teenager in highschool and Neil Finn had only just taken over at the helm of Split Enz, I somehow accurately predicted that he was going to leave and do something big with his next band – whoever the hell they were. And I turned out to be right – which is just as well because I went on and on and on and on about it in our music dept ad nauseam and drove all the teachers bonkers. I have to say when I saw Neil Finn recently and that he had apparently grown a small rodent on his top lip (is he competing with son Liam for a prize in facial hair pet growing?) I started wondering about my judgement. And then he started on about the Intriguer;

“a mythical character that we have felt his presence for quite a number of years now whenever life has become difficult and problematical but strangely fascinating, you sense the Intriguer’s presence and you only catch little glimpses of  him, in fact it’s very hard to say who or where or what he is but when he’s not there life becomes boring, predictable and plain.”

I did start to think that perhaps Crowded House had lost the plot. My intuition about musicians is usually spot on but thankfully for once I am completely wrong. Crowded House have not lost it even if the musings of their frontman are a little out there. The album is brilliant.

Neil Finn’s lyrics are always a mesmerizing encounter – like sitting out in the sun beside a river and watching the water gently flow past in an endless stream of fascinating reflections and shapes. They are gorgeously crafted and lack the jerkiness of poetry with lines that jarringly rhyme at the end of every cadence and break your reverie. I’ve always been fascinated how he can make words appear to flow together with a circularity that simultaneously remains coherent and structured whilst painting the vision of something distinctly ethereal and formless. But the most fun about them is they lead you off on a journey of blissful random imagery and just when you get comfortable jolt you back to reality with some poignantly personal line that Paul Hester remarked once would always make the band say to him “Neil, do you really want to say that?!” upon first hearing it at rehearsal. I love those moments.

You arrive like a dragonfly
Float above the grass
Trembling still
Think you might
Open up your heart
One day you will
There’s always a way
To end this isolation

The music is great too. It doesn’t exactly smack you in the face with some wild revelation that leaves you dazed for six months, but it is charmingly magical and addictive to listen to. If you don’t care about having your mind wander absentmindedly off into la la land (not looking at anyone in particular) then this is the album for you. The most intriguing thing comes in the song Isolation, most pointedly in the video of the live version at the Auckland Town Hall (my favourite local haunt for gigs). All is going swimmingly fine in the usual Crowded House way until the second verse when suddenly the voice of a Goddess appears out of nowhere and immerses the hall in wonder. This is Sharon, Neil’s wife who is shyly hiding behind a speaker cabinet on the side of the stage like a session musician who has been hired by a small band to fill out their sound live while remaining firmly sequestered in an unlit portion of the stage! What a pleasant surprise. She has a youthful and unique voice which seemlessly melts together with Neil’s. In my opinion this is the prize moment on the album. Perhaps if we are lucky there will be a Mr and Mrs Finn album sometime.

While Neil Finn will take you on a journey akin to floating down a river made of elegantly constructed poetry and tangental hook lines, Matt Bellamy will remind you there is every reason to believe you should be feeling paranoid and looking sideways at everyone above you. Muse’s new album “The Resistance” comes from a guy who has two years supply of freeze dried lasagne, 50 cans of beans and an axe stored in his basement for that “just in case” moment when “THEY” – the upper echelon, or chosen few who are plotting to suppress the masses, take over. And his preparedness even extends to killing his own chickens. (But at least they can be comforted by the thought that when he executes them it will be with the same talented hands that created masterpieces on the guitar like the riff from Plug in Baby he is so famous for. So they will be honoured chooks). It’s easy to scoff but when the universe collapses down a super massive black hole, or there is a carefully constructed zapping of half the world’s population from the HAARP site we will all descend upon him in a starving heap – the guy who planned so efficiently for every imagined eventuality (See – must be another paranoid INTJ with a wild imagination…).

The Resistance is an album about Romeo and Juliet quality love, liberation and sticking up for the right thing with a vengence. I give this guy full credit for alleviating the nagging, apathetic feeling induced by reading 1984 (which he read as part of the inspiration for The Resistance). I am sure there are many other people like me who have read 1984 and gotten excited at the moment Julia and Winston discover each other and make passionate plans to overthrow Big Brother’s hold on them. I remember reading that as a teenager and being excited by the idea that they were going to win big time and the book would have a liberating, driven ending. Instead it ended depressingly with Winston spinelessly screaming “Do it to Julia, Not me! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me!”. A reminder that when the moments like this come many of us are spineless wimps and will abandon each other – at least according to George Orwell. Apparently this is not good enough for Matt Bellamy and the album boasts of a neverending commitment and loyaty – and with the idea that love is the most powerful force in the universe, ascends in a neverending conquer the world vibe instead….

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious!

Well, it does end with sending a lone guy off into space who will never be able to return and who must rescue humanity from a dying planet … but that guy is victorious also. Unlike Crowded House this album has more of an epic quality complete with Floydish sci-fi cover art, a conquer anything plot and Dr Who synth sounds. The nice thing is that for all the seriousness on there, Muse are also adept at taking the piss and there are lots of hilarious moments embedded in the song too – like their screaming Queen harmonies for one.

Adam Clayton from U2 recently remarked that Muse are a tight operation and would give them a run for their money at Glastonbury. That’s true. I thought many bands were superb until I heard Muse. And then I realised those bands actually are superb – but Muse really needs a word invented of it’s own for “way the hell above everyone else”. You don’t really notice this until you listen to them for a while and then go back to something you thought was excellent previously and discover the gaping chasm. This is their best recorded album and remarkably they did this one completely themselves, learning about much of the technical process on the way. Add to this feat a symphony recorded with a real orchestra and the last 3 tracks of Resistance (Overture, Cross-Pollination and Redemption) become a vast expanse of inspiration that soars off into the future, sending Mr Man off on his mission to save us all…. may he win.

In short, both these albums are fantastic and deserve an 11 out of 10.

Morgan 🙂
To listen to or watch either band;

Muse: www.muse.mu
Crowded House: www.crowdedhouse.com

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