Crowded House formed as an offshoot of Split Enz, a band initially helmed by Tim Finn, but later handed off to little brother Neil. Neil developed a more commercial sound which evolved into Crowded House and the #2 U.S. hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in 1987. The band would record four albums in less than a decade’s time, but folded up their tent after 1993’s Together Alone. Neil spent the next decade and then some on solo projects and collaborations with brother Tim before reconnecting with House mate Nick Seymour in the wake of original Crowded House member Paul Hester’s suicide. Neil’s intended solo project at the time transformed into a comeback for Crowded House, the 2007 set Time on Earth.
Proving that wasn’t just a one-off reunion, Finn and Seymour return again with multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart and drummer Matt Sherrod, who had done some work on the Time on Earth album and return here as full-fledged band members. The group brought producer Jim Scott (who’d worked with Wilco) on board, “who then continued to produce the whole album in Finn’s studio, Roundhead Studios in Auckland, New Zealand.” WK The band also “hired various guest musicians throughout the recording process, including multiinstrumentalist Don McGlashan, Lisa Germano on violin, Jon Brion on vocals and guitars, James Milne on additional vocals, and Finn’s wife Sharon and son, Liam Finn contribute backing vocals and guitars, respectively.” WK
Considering Time on Earth began as a Neil solo effort, it is no surprise that this is “more of a band effort.” TH The group “settle into comfortable craft on Intriguer,” STE having “managed to arrive at a certain age without either denying their mortality or seeming defeated by it.” EG This “isn’t as self-consciously weighty as Time on Earth,” STE understandable since that album grew out of the band mourning for Hester, and “it’s also not as hazy as Finn’s pair of solo LPs. In tone and timbre, it’s closest to the second Finn Brothers album, the ruminative Everyone Is Here, but it lacks the reflective undertow of that 2004 album; it may be subdued, but it’s not reveling in its melancholy, it’s riding a gentle wave, swaying from song to song.” STE
“Finn claims to have experimented with new sounds here,” TH saying “Intriguer is exotic in parts, traditional in origin.” AZ Certainly “there are songs that bristle with ambition, with strange undercurrents and scuffed melodies.” MC Indeed, “the tempo gets slightly heated” STE at times – “Inside Out works a nicely grinding guitar riff” STE while “opening track Saturday Sun, with its squalling electronics buzzing beneath vigorous guitars” MC and a vocoder which offers “a ghostly and effective touch.” TH The song is “unexpectedly reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s The Eternal.” MC
Overall, though, the album “doesn’t mess with the Crowded House formula.” TH “Finn’s handling of a tune remains strong and his poetic sense of place, familiar to fans of the band, remains.” TH However, “those hoping for the instantly gratifying melodies of catalogue classics like ‘Weather With You’ will have to dig a little deeper” TH as Intriguer “doesn’t command attention so much as it teases it.” STE Some songs “plod amiably along, as comfortable as a fraying pair of slippers,” MC such as the “anaesthetised 1950s doo-wop meets late-1960s psychedelia of Isolation.” MC To non-fans, “the album's more conventionally crafted pop songs…invariably sound dull” MC but for fans, songs like “the gently shuffling Twice if You’re Lucky will be perfection itself.” MC
There’s also “the wistful dreaming of Amsterdam and the joyful atmospherics of Either Side of the World, with its loose samba beat and disco-influenced piano (actually inspired by John Paul Young’s ‘Love Is in the Air’). The subtlety in the strength of material like the radio-friendly ‘Saturday Sun’ and the gently epic Archer’s Arrows bears out the band’s instinct not to take their experimentation to excess.” TH
While the album may not be loaded with hits, the “light touch suits Finn’s songs; he’s favoring subtle craftsmanship over immediate hooks” STE as he “crafts songs that capture the enduring thrills and chills of life and love after youth. He and his band deliver them with a grace that doesn’t detract from their rueful punch.” EG The mood of the album “is soothing, something that pays off great dividends upon close listens. It may not be flashy but it’s sturdy and expertly honed.” STE “There are muddied moments which let some songs down: Elephants, for example, fails to transcend its ponderous title. But these dips are infrequent, and occur towards the end of the album.” TH
In the end, Intriguer holds “together better as an album than any Finn project in recent memory.” STE Finn himself says of the album, “It may just be the best thing we’ve done.” AZ