Sunday, September 17, 2006

Number 26: Crowded House

Four Seasons In One Day (Capitol CL 655)

Chart debut: 20 Jun 1992

Writers: Neil Finn, Tim Finn.

I never said I was trying to be cool, did I? I make no apologies at all for liking this track, although it's one that might not qualify entirely under my self-imposed rule of picking relatively little-known tracks, since it appears on two big-selling albums (details below, as ever). But it was a relatively low-selling single and it's the sort of thing that I imagine some people might not think to listen to.
So, we know the basics. Neil Finn, ex-Split-Enz, formed Crowded House with Nick Seymour and Paul Hester (the latter also a member of the final Enz line-up) and enjoyed a massive international hit with 'Don't Dream It's Over'. After the slightly less impressive performance of the second Crowded House album, the songs written for a third were considered insufficient by their record company; enter the elder Finn brother, Tim (who had of course founded Split Enz) and a batch of songs the pair had written for an album they were working on with former Beach Boy/Rutle Ricky Fataar. After a slow start (thanks to the ill-advised choice of 'Chocolate Cake' as lead single) the resultant Woodface album proved to be a major breakthrough for the band in the UK, spawning their first Top 20 success with Neil Finn's 'Fall At Your Feet' and their only Top 10 hit 'Weather With You' - the latter coming from the Finn Brothers project though, ironically, by the time the 45 appeared Tim Finn had already left.

This then became the fourth single from an album that had been available for some time, possibly accounting for is less than stellar chart performance. Like its predecessor, it's a song about depression; and with hidsight it's impossible not to associate that with drummer Hester, whose own problems sadly led him to take his own life in 2005. The obvious difference is in the mood - whereas 'Weather With You' belies its dark subject matter with a big singalong, this burrows into it; I suppose you could argue that whilst this song describes the wide arcs of different emotions for the sufferer (ie, the four seasons), the depiction of them depends on the other song. What we hear is very much the ghostly side of Crowded House, with Neil Finn's lead vocal sounding curiously isolated at the top of an arrangement that's actually quite complex but uses dynamics cleverly to sound sparse. Peter Paphides' sleeve notes to the Recurring Dream compilation compare the high backing vocals to vultures surrounding a corpse, but perhaps they're also one of the first audible nods to the band's Antipodean origins (though this track was apparently recorded in Los Angeles). More conventional harmony appears only on the chorus (at least, the nearest equivalent this song has to one) bolstering the mysterious but haunting image "blood dries rain". Perhaps the most dramatic moment of all is the pause in the middle of the line "I will risk my neck... again".

It's instructive to compare the finished article with the Finn Brothers' 1989 demo, issued as a B-side in 1995 and later included on an obscure Centenary Edition of the album (it was EMI's centenary, of course, not theirs). The structure is already in place but this being a mere sketch it's played only on acoustic guitar and electric piano; it consequently loses some of its impact. Indeed, it sheds light on just how much went into the album version, and how carefully measured it all is. There's only a tentative version of the keyboard solo as well. The ending is as dramatic in either version, after less than three minutes. One other small point - both versions also include what I believe to be the only swear word in a Crowded House record, "Smiling as the shit comes down." A radio edit substitutes " the ship goes down" and is also used in some versions of the rather overdone video.

After this, the album was milked for a fifth single, 'It's Only Natural'. Only one further studio album was completed, Together Alone, arguably continuing in the same vein as this song.

Websites: No sign of an official site as such, hardly surprising for a band who split up in 1996. However, you'll find some info from their fanclub site at and seems the most up to date unofficial site.
YouTube if you want to: That video, uncensored.
Where to find it: If nothing else, the Recurring Dream collection is a must for anyone not interested in the full catalogue, especially since some of the new material thereon is actually quite decent. The original Woodface is slightly flawed, but still worth owning for its highlights. It's appeared in various forms, including a heavyweight vinyl LP, and a double-pack with Together Alone. The video is also available on a DVD compilation.

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