I found myself presented with a few opportunities where I couldn't focus on the music like I normally do. When I opted to listen to a playlist I'd created that mixed things up just a tiny bit by throwing in two b-sides to mirror the tracklisting of the vinyl version of the album, I realized that all of the songs were powerful and beautiful. That little change created a new terrain out of the familiar, somehow, and I could hear the album anew. The clouds parted, as they say, the light shone down from above, and the haze cleared, illuminating what is a powerful collection of songs dealing with love, death, and the state of the world.
We can argue if we want about whether they're truly Crowded House songs or "just" more Neil Finn songs. That's what some are doing. But in the end, does it matter? I'll take more of either.
Rush - Snakes & Arrows: While it may not quite be the wild and crazy effort that producer Nick Raskulinecz promised, it is a solid, enjoyable album. If anything, it suffers mainly from the band's attempts at covering so much ground. Where they had formerly been so focused on a "sound" for each album, this album is all over the place, picking bits and pieces from all over their catalog. It makes for a fun listen, but not an especially focused one when you're in a particular mood. What I respond to on this album, more than many other Rush albums, are drummer Neil Peart's lyrics, which seem to be misunderstood by many as the words of a very bitter man about a very cold world, rather than what I believe them to be. Which is one man attemping to show that while there are terrible events of every kind taking place, there is beauty and belief and justice to be found if we would just trust in each other. A unified message of hope ties an album of loose ends together in a fantastic way.
Radiohead - In Rainbows: Even after only a few months with this album, it's hard for me not to look back on their catalog and think of the high points as OK Computer, Kid A, and In Rainbows. Somehow, after years of really doing their own thing, going their own way, which kind of means that they had a bit of a "Spinal Tap Jazz Odyssey for a new generation" thing going on. Here, they veered back to territory closer to OK Computer and the prettier parts of Kid A and made a bunch of really beautiful songs. Sure, there are lots of bits of experimentation here and there, but where it used to take the front seat, it's now more background, with melody upfront. Part of me wants more of the weird, angular, gritty stuff, because I loved that. But when they make music this compellingly lovely, it's impossible to deny wanting more.