Continuous Hit Music: Crowded House – Temple Of Low Men

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here.


Artist: Crowded House
Title: Temple Of Low Men
Original Release: 1988
Label: Capitol
Store: Parramatta Town Hall, Church St, Parramatta
Price: $3.33
(Original AU pressing)

Parramatta Record Fair is one of the staples of the Sydney record collecting scene. It has been going for many years. I went to my first one around ’98. You would see flyers for it in every record store. Twice a year, you’d make your way out to Parramatta, and fight it out with the various anoraks and weirdos that make up the record collecting set.

I’ve been away for years, and it’s like going back to your old family home. Has it shrunk? Or have I grown? There didn’t seem to be as many stalls as previous years. The variety was missing too. Secondhand CDs are worth almost nothing these days. And lots and lots of old records – and not selling for that much either.

It was a delight in the late 90s and early 00s. For all of the music industry’s excess, it was high time for quality CD box sets, and fancy promo items. Now you’re just fighting over a $5 Randy Newman album.

There is so much to say about this world. Like the way people treat eachother. Or the pair of charming older ladies talking to stall owners about gigs they once saw. Or the pair of young girls, who were impressively out of place. But that will be a story for another day.

$5 each or $10 for 3. You’d see that in a lot of boxes. For years I’ve avoided them, looking for more precious jewels. But this little blog project has set me back going through them. In one of these boxes I found this album – Temple of Low Men by Crowded House. Amongst 20 or 30 purchases that day.

I could have written about quite a few albums but this one is interesting. First of all, it’s not that easy to find. You see the first album around a lot, but this one is a bit rarer. And not because it’s more hunted… probably because it is less loved.

Common concensus is that this is the least of those early Crowded House albums. The debut, self titled Crowded House is an established classic (and Triple J listener’s favourite), and Woodface was the hit record with the best story. Together Alone has been reassesed in recent years, and has been declared an underrated classic. Which leaves us with Temple Of Low Men.

And yes, I would also say this is the 4th best album by early Crowded House. But it is a fantastic album. It just had two things set against it. It was a bit all over the shop stylistically. And it is hopelessly sad compared to their hopeful debut.

As the years go by, we see more and more that Neil Finn is powered by his melancholy. He can write a snappy tune with the best of them, but his body of work is tied to sadness. It’s just his radio hits that are bright. And it is this side of Neil Finn that blooms more than ever on this album.

Let’s not forget all the great songs on here. ‘Into Temptation‘ is the best ‘sad’ song Finn has ever written. ‘I Feel Possessed‘ is spooky and mysterious, and gifted with a chorus that most songwriters would kill for. And there’s ‘Better Be Home Soon‘. A song that everyone in Australia knows, and should have been a smash.

In a way, this album was the end of Crowded House. The bright, sunny joker-y of the first album could not be sustained. Tim Finn gave it a shot in the arm, but one more failure and it was all over.

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100 for 2000 – #77. Crowded House – Time On Earth

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2007 – #7. Crowded House – Time On Earth
(Capitol)

I’ve loved Crowded House all my life. Certainly since I got to Australia, and since I started using English as my primary language. I woke up every Saturday morning early to see where Better Be Home Soon was charting when I was 7. I danced in my bedroom to Locked Out (a minor hit thanks to Reality Bites). I bought Recurring Dream when it came out, and watched the news over and over when they announced they would split. I was there with them when they did, steps of the Sydney Opera House, that magical night. I followed Neil Finn, felt my heart break when Paul Hester died, and after all that, I had no idea what the hell to expect from a new Crowded House album.

Maybe it should have been the third Neil Finn solo album. But with Hester‘s death, I guess Crowded House was on the brain. Having worn out every note of those 4 original albums, I was surprised and relieved that this album is great as well.

For the man who wrote Something So Strong, and co-wrote Weather With You and It’s Only Natural, I forget sometimes that Neil Finn‘s default setting is melancholy. And this is mainly a sad, winter record. I don’t think it really confronts Hester‘s death directly, but it does skirt around with mortality.

It’s not as strongly melodic as some of Finn‘s previous work, but neither was Together Alone or Temple Of Low Men. It’s subtler, but the songs are, without a doubt, still there. The gentle, floating, sad-faced opener of Nobody Wants To leads us into the first single, the urgent and anxious Don’t Stop Now. She Called Up, by far the poppiest thing on the album, hits you in the face, before settling into a series of masterfully crafted ballads. Amongst these is the ‘noble’ Pour Le Monde.

The electronica experiments have faded away. And following on from the great Everyone Is Here, it’s a pretty straight and honest recording, with a bit of strings here and there. At 14 tracks, it’s one of the longest albums Finn‘s ever out his name on, and maybe it could have lost a couple of tracks.

My favourite track though, is You Are The Only One To Make Me Cry. It’s just so well written it drives you nuts. For a songwriter, this is showing off. It is just so great. Just like I think Message To My Girl is a superior re-write of his brother Tim‘s Stuff And Nonsense (very similar, chord wise, structure wise), YATOOTMMC sounds like an update of Tim‘s All I Ask from Woodface. String-heavy, reflective and gorgeous, and one of Finn‘s best lyrics.

At the time of this writing, there is a new album due in a few short months and Australian tour dates. I’m excited for what can come next.

Crowded House – Don’t Stop Now. Their first new song in 10 years.

5. My Thoughts Keep Returning To You


5. Time On Earth – Crowded House

When I first fell for Crowded House, everything about music was a mystery. I couldn’t tell a bass from a banjo. I couldn’t tell a bridge from a coda. At best, I could tell you a key change is where the song gets a bit more exciting. As a band that I loved in my youth, I hold them dearly, but also see them through a mist of nostalgia.

So it’s lucky that the record is fantastic. It also helps that, as a solo artist, Neil Finn has continued to deliver great records. And if I’m honest, whether this was a Neil record or a Crowded House record, it would mean the same to me.

Don’t Stop Me was such a weird song. Could it stand up with the classics? It was pleasant enough on first listen. And on repeated listens, it really warms up, and you realise there’s something weird going on, lyrically. I’ve had quite a few conversations this year about this song, mostly along the lines of, it’s good, isn’t it? Which is the thing, Neil just let the song talk us into it.

Gorgeous, subtle moments abound. Nobody Wants To is so relaxed, it’s like a Whiskeytown ballad. Pour Le Monde, although sounding a bit like Coldplay’s The Scientist, is full of confidence. Slow burning (and long, for CH), it’s a song about the current war. Which makes the only really poppy moment, She Called Up, stand out all the more.

And yes, there is a stench of death on this record. If not directly taken from Paul Hester, the theme of losing people here. Most of the record is steeped in sadness, but not in a whiny, woe-is-I way.

My favourite song, and very much not indicative of the album, is You Are The Only One To Make Me Cry. Recalling Tim Finn’s All I Ask from Woodface, it’s a string laden jazzy ballad. No one can touch this guy when he wants to write a really song-y song. This is pretty much showing off for such a master songwriter. And like most Finn songs, I don’t know who he is thinking of in that song, but I know who I think of when I hear it. Oh, the power of songs.

I can’t think of another reunion album I’ve liked as much. But again, I’ve bought an album by Neil Finn every couple of years anyway. And I don’t care who’s name is on the cover, I just, as always, look forward to some more songs by Neil Finn.