To this ageing hack, there will always be a special place in the heart for Crowded House's third album, Woodface. Flush with youth and a first significant other, it's erudite mix of classic songwriting and mellifluous harmonies ensured that whilst the rest of Europe were shouting 'Acieed!' without even knowing what it meant, yours truly was enjoying road trips and quiet nights in the company of Four Seasons In One Day and Weather With You.
Like all great records, Woodface had an element of backstory too, with Neil Finn's elder brother Tim co-opted into the group only to leave mid-way through the world tour that supported its release. More than anything however, its timelessness ensured that Crowded House would become arguably the Southern Hemisphere's most ubiquitous act of the last century, the unfortunate end of Michael Hutchence aside.
Seventeen years later, Intriguer arrives as a second release following the band's ten year hiatus, the sequel to 2007's Time On Earth. Whereas their first post-reformation album had evolved from the seeds of the evergreen Finn's solo writings, this arrives as very much a collaborative effort, constructed over an eighteen month period of touring and recorded in Auckland with producer Jim Scott.
Longstanding fans have no reason to panic, as the eager downloaders who snapped up the album's opening track Saturday Sun on its pre-release will have been able to tell them. Whilst the distribution method reflected a contemporary take on the vagaries of the modern entertainment industry, the track itself was a Crowded House archetype once beyond the rolling fuzzy bass of the opening few notes, a genteel uptempo stroll underpinned by Finn's preferred Lennon/McCartney-esque melodies.
It's also little surprise that none of Intriguer's highest moments reach those of Woodface, indeed you sense that was probably a conscious decision by a band with little left to prove. This of course isn't to say that there isn't much to enjoy, especially the gloriously drifting Either Side, itself a worthy addition to a trophy cabinet of imperiously lustrous songs whose inauguration came more than thirty years ago with Split Enz I Got You.
At that certain tempo comparisons could be made between the Kiwis and our own Teenage Fanclub, but the atmosphere of most of Intriguer is more introverted. Isolation for instance is a moody, vaguely psychedelic celestial meander, whilst the gritty Amsterdam wanders into territory which fans of Don't Dream It's Over may find more than a little bleak.
In many ways this is Crowded House at their most naked, stripped back to their roots and totally without pretension. Were they for instance from Arkansas, Intriguer would be categorised as Americana, right to the gentle pedal steel echoes of the lugubrious closer Elephants. They aren't of course, merely pinned instead to the anachronistic concept of making a record where most songs sound roughly the same and which sounds mostly like the record they made before it. Looks strange written down, doesn't it?
My paramour of the early nineties is long, long gone, but we'll always have Woodface. And Neil Finn and co. seemingly will never forget how to make music for real people to have real experiences to.