On 24 November 1996, Crowded House, one of Australia's most successful and best-loved groups ever, was laid to rest. In front of an estimated crowd of 150 000 people, Crowded House played a farewell concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. The demise of Crowded House effectively heralded the arrival of a new era in Australian rock'n'roll.
When Split Enz broke up in December 1984, Neil Finn and Paul Hester decided to form a new band. With Nick Seymour and auxiliary member Craig Hooper (guitar, keyboards; ex-Reels) on board, the band took the moniker The Mullanes (after Neil's middle name). In late 1985, the band bypassed Australian record companies and signed directly to Capitol in the USA. The band relocated to Los Angeles (minus Hooper) and commenced work on its debut album with producer Mitchell Froom. The band was rechristened Crowded House in homage to the cramped conditions the members (and friends) endured while living in a rented Hollywood bungalow.
With the help of a host of session players (including Froom on keyboards), Crowded House (August 1986) proved to be a very polished affair. It also revealed the extraordinary breadth of Neil Finn's songwriting talents. It included at least five certified classics in `Mean to Me', `World Where You Live', `Don't Dream It's Over', `Love You `Til the Day I Die' and `Something so Strong'. Crowded House produced five singles in Australia: `Mean to Me'/`Hole in the River' (July 1986), `Now We're Getting Somewhere'/`Recurring Dream' (September), `Don't Dream It's Over'/`That's What I Call Love' (November), `World Where You Live'/`Hole in the River' (March 1987) and `Something so Strong'/`I Walk Away' (June).
Although the first UK single, `World Where You Live'/`That's What I Call Love' (August 1986), failed to chart, American success followed soon after. On release the same month, the album rose to #12 in the US. The singles `Don't Dream It's Over' and `Something so Strong' peaked there at #2 (January 1987) and #7 (April) respectively. The next US single, `World Where You Live'/`Hole in the River', however, only managed a relatively poor placing of #65 during August. Nevertheless, American critics hailed Neil Finn as the successor to the songwriting crown of Lennon/McCartney. Certainly, the band's romantic guitar pop had a similar effect on listeners to that created by The Beatles.
In Australia it was a different story. `Mean to Me' peaked at a modest #18 during August 1986. Crowded House lingered around the lower reaches of the Australian album charts for almost a year before it reached #1 (June 1987). The catalyst was Australian radio finally getting behind `Don't Dream It's Over' and `Something so Strong'. `Don't Dream It's Over' went to #7 in March 1987 and `Something so Strong' peaked at #12 during July. Crowded House remains one of the most impeccably crafted, timeless Australian albums of the 1980s.
With the success of the album in the USA, Crowded House launched into a punishing schedule of American concert tours. Inevitably the band played to packed auditoriums. Not only were American audiences seduced by the band's consummate musical skills, but they were also won over by the affable sense of humour on offer. In particular, Paul Hester's on-stage court jester antics were the focus of much attention. It was not unusual, for example, for Hester to stop the show, order takeaway and happily chomp on hamburgers while all around waited!
In the UK, success also took a little longer in coming, but `Don't Dream It's Over' reached #27 there during April 1987. `Better be Home Soon'/`When You Come' (July 1988) was a strong follow-up single with its simple acoustic arrangement and three-part `round-the-campfire' harmonies. Both the single and the band's second album, Temple of Low Men, went to #1 in Australia during the same week in August 1988. The album won Best Album and Best Cover Artwork at the 1988 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards. `Better Be Home Soon' was named Song of the Year. Overseas audiences, however, were unprepared for Temple of Low Men.
The album's lush sound was deceptive because tracks like `When You Come', `I Feel Possessed', `Into Temptation' and `Never Be the Same' uncovered the band's darker side. Temple of Low Men only managed #40 in the USA, despite bearing the hallmarks of another classic album. Likewise, `Better be Home Soon'/`Kill Eye' peaked at #42 in the US during August, but failed to reach the UK chart. `Into Temptation'/`Mansion in the Slums' (live), `This Is Massive' (live) (December 1988) and `Sister Madly'/`Love this Life' (April 1989) came out as singles in Australia. The band also contributed `Mansion in the Slums' to the Various Artists album Building Bridges on CBS (1989).
Neil's older brother, and another ex-Split Enz alumnus, Tim Finn, joined Crowded House in 1990. Woodface (July 1991) and the sardonic single `Chocolate Cake'/`As Sure as I am' fared poorly in the USA (Woodface only reached #83). In Australia, the band was as popular as ever (`Chocolate Cake' reached #20 upon release in June and Woodface peaked at #2), and in the UK its star was on the rise. Woodface made #34 there at the end of 1991. Likewise, the band enjoyed four more hits from Woodface, `Fall at Your Feet' (Australian #31 in October 1991; UK #17), `It's Only Natural' (Australian #15 in March 1992; UK #24 in September), `Weather with You' (UK #7 in February 1992; Australian #27 in June) and `Four Seasons in One Day' (UK #26 in June 1992; Australian #47 in August). All these CD singles featured alternative, usually live, bonus tracks in the different territories. `Fall at Your Feet'/`Whispers and Moans' was the last Crowded House single issued on vinyl in Australia.
At the end of 1992, Crowded House took out Best International Group at the prestigious UK Music Awards, the BRITS, beating Pearl Jam, Nirvana, R.E.M. and U2 in the process. The group also won Best Band at the 1992 ARIA Awards. Tim Finn had left in late 1991, and American Mark Hart (keyboards, guitar; ex-Supertramp) joined as a hired hand in order for the band to continue touring. In early 1993, Crowded House began recording a new album in the isolated environment of Kare Kare beach on the North Island of New Zealand with UK producer Youth.
Together Alone (October 1993) was another classic album, reaching #1 in Australia and #4 in the UK. Its CD singles `Distant Sun' (UK #19 in October 1993; Australian #23 in November), `Nails in My Feet' (UK #22 in November 1993; Australian #34 in February 1994) and `Locked Out' (UK #12 in February 1994) sold well. All was not well, however, within the band. Following the Together Alone Australian tour of February 1994, Hester announced his departure in May. He returned to Melbourne to be with his family and to tend his garden. He played drums with studio outfit Ultrasound fronted by Deborah Conway. Melbourne drummer Peter Jones (ex-Harem Scarem, Vince Jones, Kate Ceberano's Septet) came in as replacement and Crowded House continued to tour.
Finn and Seymour recorded demos with Hart and Jones in Auckland at the end of 1994 for the proposed fifth Crowded House album. The project was shelved when Neil joined Tim for the Finn album (UK #15 in October 1995). Finn produced two singles, `Suffer Never'/`Weather with You' (demo) (UK #29 in October 1995) and `Angels Heap'/`It's Only Natural' (demo), `Chocolate Cake' (demo) (UK #41 in November 1995).
The Crowded House singles `Fingers of Love' and `Private Universe' came out in May 1994 and May 1995 respectively. By the beginning of 1996, Crowded House was on its last legs. Hester rejoined briefly to record three new songs with Mitchell Froom: `Not the Girl You Think You Are', `Instinct' and `Everything is Good for You'. `Everything is Good for You' appeared as a CD single and peaked at #9 in Australia during June 1996. `Not the Girl You Think You Are' came out in September, and reflected its more melancholy demeanour by only reaching #37. All three songs were included on Recurring Dream—The Very Best of Crowded House, which came out in July 1996. Recurring Dream was the band's most successful album to date. It made its debut at #1 on the Australian and the UK album charts. By the beginning of 1997, it had sold over 400 000 copies in Australia (six times platinum) and 600 000 in the UK. By the end of June 1997, it had spent 50 weeks in the Australian Top 40 album listing and sold a staggering 500 000 copies. It went on to take the Best-Selling Australian Album award at the 1997 ARIA ceremony.
With Recurring Dream in the shops, Neil Finn announced the break-up of Crowded House. Hester rejoined the band for the farewell show in November 1996, and Tim Finn made a guest appearance. With the demise of the band, Neil considered his options, Seymour joined deadstar, Hester worked with a band called The Fez (with Mike Rudd and Bill Putt) and Mark Hart rejoined Supertramp.
Crowded House contributed a number of songs to film soundtracks, including `Recurring Dream' in the Australian feature film Rikki and Pete, and `Locked Out' and `Something so Strong' in Reality Bites (1994). The band also rerecorded `Recurring Dream' for the Tequila Sunrise (1989) soundtrack. `Don't Dream It's Over' appeared during pivotal scenes in the US television miniseries The Stand (1994), which was based on the book by Stephen King.
Following the final break-up of Crowded House, Paul Hester formed his new band the Largest Living Things. Comprising Kevin Garant (guitar), Barry ‘Fats’ Stockley (bass) and George Servanis (drums), Hester took up frontman duties on guitar and lead vocals. Largest Living Things issued two CD EPs, Largest Living Things (1997) and Largest Living Things II (April 1998). Featuring jangly pop gems like ‘Hellbent’, the EPs were fun if hardly essential. Hester went back behind the drums when Largest Living Things became a 3-piece with the departure of Servanis.
Hester also concentrated on his media career when he unveiled the variety show, Hessie’s Shed on ABC-TV (December 1998). The program had its basis in 12 trial shows Hester held in late 1997 at the Gershwin Room in St Kilda’s Esplanade hotel. It then continued into April 1998 as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Hester’s guests included Colin Hay, Chris Wilson, Ruby Hunter, Nick Barker, Stephen Cummings, comedian Raymond J Bartholomeuz (Bryan Nankervis), Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst, Vika and Linda Bull, Deborah Conway, Martin and Molloy, Mike Rudd and Bill Putt and The Empty Pockets. Paul Hester’s Largest Living Things also appeared as house band on the ill-fated The Late Show with Mick Malloy on the Channel Nine network (July 1999).
In the meantime, Neil Finn had launched his solo career with the #1 album, Try Whistling This (June 1998). While Finn’s solo career proved to be very successful, nevertheless interest in Crowded House remained strong. EMI issued a new album, after glow, in November 1999. A shining collection of 13 unreleased recordings from various stages of the band’s prolific career, it was so enjoyable as to prompt the thought ‘if only other bands issued albums this strong and coherent’. The album peaked at #36 on the national chart. Tracks ranged from the original version of ‘Recurring Dream’, recorded in 1985 when the band was known as The Mullanes (with Craig Hooper on keyboards), up to ‘Help is Coming’, a leftover from the band’s final demo session (with Peter Jones on drums). The initial UK pressing came with a Limited Edition, bonus Neil Finn interview disc.