There’s not many occasions in the life of a music fanatic when you can say that you’re truly spoilt for choice. However, being a Crowded House fan is one of them. If you’re ever going to get into an argument with someone about why their band is better, more prolific or more famous than this Kiwi crew, you can be safe in the knowledge that you have some of the most devastating artillery known to modern man on your side. That weaponry comes in the form of the back catalogue of Crowded House; an iron-clad suite of songs that are as enduring as they are interesting and remain the absolute watermark for Oceanic rock and pop writing. You only have to take ‘It’s Only Natural’, a song that is perhaps their fourth of fifth most recognisible tune, to see what I’m talking about. The thing is absolutely flawless. Indeed, every time an Australian artist tries to re-record one of these guys’ songs for a tribute album or something, I actually get physically angry. Homage is all well and good, but do us a favour please: don’t mess with perfection..
Discussed recently when talking about The Bee Gees - another band Australia has claimed entirely irrespective of the fact they spent the majority of their careers overseas – there must be something in the theory that siblings who enter showbiz together just sing better in harmony. Hearing Tim and Neil Finn go for it on Woodface, the multi-national, platinum selling record which houses this zinger (as well as ‘Fall At Your Feet’ and ‘Weather With You’, remember what I said about being spoilt?) is really remarkable. It often seems like you’re listening to the same person, with that same irreverent humour and deep, loving appreciation of life splitting themselves in two and hitting both octaves. Though they were obviously heavily influenced by John and Paul’s work on later Beatles records (the tracking of vocals is quite similar to what you’ll hear on their albums from 1967 onwards), Crowded House’s dual frontmen and songwriters took things a significant step further with a huge diversity of sound. A goofy, endearing love song, ‘It’s Only Natural’ starts out with a bunch of percussion instruments that sound, alternately, like a car horn and some guy farting. It’s a sign that regardless of the heavy themes ahead, these guys still knew how to have fun with their craft. And that’s rarer than you think. Especially given that Tim was kicked out of the band almost as soon as the album was done.
There’s so much to love about ‘It’s Only Natural’ that it’s difficult to know where to start. Many of the elements of this song seem somewhat at odds with each other, but they work. It could be the reverb-heavy, Southern desert rock lead guitar that could belong to a Chris Isaak song with another acoustic laid over it, those fantastic pop changes that move seamlessly with the melody through the verse or the particularly active bass figures from Nick Seymour which dart madly down the fretboard as the rest of the ensemble stays solid. Outside of the Finn’s voices, now so famous that they have two albums worth of aforementioned cover songs in their honour, the romance of Crowded House remains at once both a mystery and bleedingly obvious. How they got it right so many times over such a lengthy career is the stuff of legend, but a brief analysis confirms them to be men just like the rest of us. It’s perhaps their truthfulness, both in their delivery but also in the way they carried themselves as performers, that makes Crowded House heroes to so many people. Whatever it is, it could only have come from four men who were miles beyond the rest, and yet so utterly devoid of pretence that they farted at the beginning of one of their best songs.
RIP Paul Hester.
Crowded House – ‘It’s Only Natural’