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Vinyl Tap: Crowded House – Temple of Low Men

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #57:

According to one of the memorable and melodic songs of pop apprehension that bejewel Crowded House’s foreboding Temple of Low Men — the propulsive "In the Lowlands" — "Black shapes gather in the distance / Looks like it won't take long." This 1988 album, after the success of the New Zealand group’s self-titled debut two years earlier, may have amounted to a sophomore slump commercially — two-hit wonderdom struck early with the dazzling "Don’t Dream It’s Over" and "Something So Strong" — but it’s a critically hailed and consistent album that, while perhaps not relatively radio- or MTV-friendly at the time, tempers any manic, all-over-the-map attempt to “catch the deluge in a paper cup.”

The enhanced dimensions of musical and lyrical gravitas strikes an evocative and cohesive chord of melancholy and mood due to Neil Finn's song craft and the production of Mitchell Froom, who took the new wavish Split Enz edge off to create a more psychologically fixed, if no less fixated, appeal for Temple. “My possessions are causing me suspicion” perhaps, but now stupefaction and paralysis really sets in “when you come like an iceberg float in darkness … when you come your majesty to entrap me” (“When You Come).

While this latter lyrical bent might have zigged to similar wordplay as illustrated in the virtually lone upbeat track, the rockabilly tangent “Sister Madly” (“Sister madly waking up the dead / You're systematically stepping on my head”), things largely zagged into darker territory, especially in Temple’s salient shadows as cast by the opener, “I Feel Possessed,” and the ill-omened “Into Temptation.”

The mercurial “Possessed” sets up a bizarro parallel world that turns on its head the lovey-dovey moon-in-June notions of walking on air or being on cloud nine — more accurately conjuring an every-which-way-but-lucid keystone-kop concept of walking on cloud nine, then falling off slapstick-style.

    Whenever you invade my home
    Everything I know flies out the window
    It's above you and beyond me too
    I don't want an explanation
    But I'll be there when you bring the house down

    I hardly know which way is up

    Or which way down…

“Lose yourself when you linger long,” passes a refrain in the insidious five-minute-plus brood-over about infidelity, “Into Temptation.” Almost completely contained within the seemingly effortless entrancement of Finn’s mellifluously understated vocal nuance is an anticipatory, subtly-building musical dread and sense of emotional overload and mental discombobulation as the Sirens pull him in closer and closer:

    A muddle of nervous words
    Could never amount to betrayal
    The sentence is all my own
    The price is to watch it fail
    As I turn to go
    You looked at me for half a second
    With an open invitation for me to go
    Into temptation
    Knowing full well the earth will rebel

    Into temptation
    Safe in the wide open arms of hell…

As if to make up for all of the angst, anxiety, and alienation scattered or helicopter-dropped over the course of the previous nine tracks, Temple of Low Men’s closer, the gorgeous “Better Be Home Soon,” ends the album on a comparatively positive note, or at least a more stoic one, as Crowded House finds a silver lining of resilience, of finding something so strong within: “It would cause me pain / If we were to end it / But I could start again / You can depend on it.”

In other words, dream on – it’s over.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_music.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    This band was SOOOOOOOOO good…….. why they never reached the Beatles/U3 level of success is a mystery. And their last album since they got back together was even good, too!

  • Rob

    What a great album from a great band! Neil Finn has one of the sweetest voices in pop music and is a very skilled songwriter. I agree with you JC, I don’t understand why they never reached a higher level of popularity in their heyday?

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    I enjoy the Beatles, but I LOVE Crowded House. This is more important music to me, personally, than the Beatles. They’d be in my suitcase for that desert island before the Beatles, is all I’m saying . . . (Please note, Beatles freaks, that I’m not putting down the Beatles.)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    You all have me on a Crowded House kick, digging out the albums I have (which is most), and tracking down the ones I don’t (including the last release).