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Crowded House returns from the shadows

  • Story Highlights
  • Crowded House's new album, "Time on Earth," is dedicated to Paul Hester
  • Drummer Hester committed suicide in 2005
  • Album has Neil Finn's trademark catchy melodies, melancholy lyrics
  • Group is best known for 1987 hit "Don't Dream It's Over"
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By Todd Leopold
CNN
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(CNN) -- There's always been a duality in Neil Finn's songs for Crowded House. They have hook-laden, even sprightly, melodies, but the sentiments expressed in the lyrics are often anything but: "There's a hole in the river." "I feel possessed when you come 'round." "You better be home soon."

Crowded House

Neil Finn (2nd from L) says that one reason for reuniting Crowded House was his enjoyment of being in a band.

Even the group's biggest hit, "Don't Dream It's Over," combines the shadow of melancholy with a hopeful, singalong chorus: "In the paper today, tales of war and of waste/But you turn right over to the TV page" against "Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over ..."

The shadow is more literal on the group's new album, "Time on Earth" (ATO), its first in 14 years. The album is dedicated to founding drummer Paul Hester, who committed suicide in 2005. Hester was 46.

"His contribution was big," says Finn in a phone interview from Los Angeles, California, remembering his "very funny" colleague. "It's not like he wrote songs, but his energy on drums contributed a lot. But," he adds, "I miss him as a friend more than anything else."

Crowded House wasn't necessarily supposed to get back together. Finn, who had spent the intervening years as a solo artist and working with his brother Tim (a sometime House member who was also in Hester and Neil Finn's previous band, Split Enz), says he found himself playing music with fellow House founder Nick Seymour. "I wasn't thinking about what it was," he says. "I was just enjoying being in a band again.

"It had the right heart," he adds. Video Watch the band talk about their "sexy" song »

The pairing eventually grew into a Crowded House reunion -- lead singer and guitarist Finn, bassist Seymour, keyboardist Mark Hart and drummer Matt Sherrod -- with contributions from musicians such as guitarist Johnny Marr, drummer Joey Waronker and other members of the Finn family. (Finn also co-wrote the song "Silent House" with the Dixie Chicks, who gave the piece a different treatment on their "Taking the Long Way" album.)

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Finn acknowledges Hester's presence in the music.

"It was a profound loss," he says. "A lot of lyrics deal with [him] in fragments, and others in larger ways." The lyrics to his songs, he observes, often come out of his subconscious: "Lines fall out, and then I work them out."

But, he adds, while he's "naturally inclined toward lyrics that explore melancholy," he believes that's not all that's there: "There's hopefulness, too," he says.

He's upbeat about the new album's prospects, partly thanks to the group's deal with label ATO. That contrasts with Crowded House's famously difficult relationship with its first label, Capitol.

When the band initially formed out of the ashes of Split Enz, Capitol gave the group little promotion, and it wasn't until Crowded House went on tour, complete with cheeky interviews, that it started getting a push. (MTV didn't hurt, either, giving the "Don't Dream It's Over" video plenty of airplay.)

And though Crowded House went on to huge worldwide success -- Finn was even awarded an Order of the British Empire honor in 1993 -- the group's U.S. impact was mostly limited to its first album.

Finn says the situation with ATO, the label co-founded by Dave Matthews, is much better.

"They are a label of an independent mind. ... They're far more artist-oriented than other labels, and they've got other ideas on promoting music [rather than the Top 40 route]," he says. "They believe in us, and we expect very good things from them."

Not that Finn is expecting another go-round of the craziness that greeted the band when "Don't Dream It's Over" hit the Top Five in 1987.

"I remember mostly good things, but there were times when it felt like there were an awful lot of people looking in. That's not comfortable, unless you're an extrovert, which I'm not," he says. "The three of us tried to subvert the situation we were in and find humor in it, so it didn't get too serious."

The group is preparing to tour this year as well, kicking off at Connecticut's Foxwoods Casino on August 3 and continuing through the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, parts of Canada and the Southeast into mid-September.

Finn hopes that "Time on Earth" has the sort of appeal other Crowded House records have had, noting that the songs work on both specific and general levels: "I'm always conscious of keeping a universal angle," he says.

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Besides, duality can be a source of humor as well. Take the OBE, one of the Commonwealth's highest honors. Some recipients may give the award a triumphant spot on their mantel, but Finn admits he's not sure where his medal is.

"I think it's in a cupboard somewhere," he says. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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