There are two things that Crowded House’s latest album, Intriguer, makes abundantly clear. The first is that this slightly tweaked version of their lineup – again featuring “newbie” drummer Matt Sherrod – is every bit as polished and focused as their previous incarnation. The second is that Neil Finn has a seemingly endless reserve of great songs. Whatever they lack in prolific output – although their debut was almost twenty-five years ago, this most recent studio album is only the group’s sixth, and the second featuring a modified lineup after a long hiatus – they certainly make up with intentional quality. Both of these points are strengthened with each repeat visit to Intriguer.
Although much of the record finds success with more mid-tempo and introspective songs, things start off very summery and peppy with the single “Saturday Sun.” This fulfills much the same purpose as “Don’t Stop Now” from Time On Earth, only with a more overt rock edge. Finn’s vocals are as clear and strong as ever, and this intro displays the tightness of the band brilliantly.
The album quickly finds its center with “Archer’s Arrows” and “Amsterdam”, two mid-tempo songs that take their pleasant melodic lines on more adventurous journeys. While songs like “Saturday Sun” and “Twice If You’re Lucky” help fulfill their quotient for catchy, it’s these deeper album cuts that are the real treat of the record. Not only are they lyrically richer, but its in these moments where Neil is afforded more freedom to experiment and really sharpen his ace sense of songwriting. As the years go by, the band’s tolerance for filler seems to grow ever smaller.
Diversity is found with songs like “Falling Dove” where a slower verse is contrasted with a rousing bridge of rhythmic piano stabs and accelerated vocal weight. Things do grind to a (at least pleasant) halt through much of the overly-dreamy “Isolation”, but similar to “Falling Down” it is oddly counter-balanced with a raucous close. Although these moments are more the exception than the rule, the album still makes it all work and overall maintains a natural flow.
Final tracks such as “Even If” and the closer “Elephants” are much too gentle to try to upstage the likes of rocker “Inside Out”, but somehow they still do. Again, repeat listens are the key here, as the beauty of some of these slower tracks is developed quietly and becomes more fully revealed over time. Obvious singles are in short supply with Intriguer, but the bulk of the record forges a more understated, and ultimately fulfilling, path. With the longevity the group has already enjoyed, that has to be a priority.
About the only criticism that can reasonably laid against Intriguer is that it might not be as ambitious as its predecessor, Time On Earth. While comfortably composed and endlessly listenable, some of the energy gained with Time feels less potent here. Intriguer is not their comeback album, and they no longer have anything left to prove; but sometimes that drive can sharpen your edge. Regardless, this latest from the New Zealand quartet is an impressive continuation of songwriting at its best.