Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Together Alone

It is often implied that the best career move an artist can make is to die. But if they are destined to live a full life, then the worst thing they can do in their lifetime is produce a mega-selling hit album – apart from the fame. Oh, and the money. It acts like a huge umbrella effectively shielding all other work and especially subsequent work, from the public gaze almost for as long as the artist is in circulation.

The Pink Floyd had this trouble with that brooding monolith, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, the umbrella to end all umbrellas whose vast and impenetrable shadow stretched over many other of their albums. In particular, it seemed to affect the follow up ‘Wish You Were Here’ quite badly, at least initially as everyone held their breath whilst trying to divine whether it was ‘the next one in the nest’ as Joni Mitchell once put it. These days, critical appreciation has grown but when it first emerged in its foul smelling black plastic bag, we were not so sure. (Note to record companies – don’t issue albums in black shrink-wrap.)

Other famous examples of ‘albums in the shadow’ are Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ (which followed ‘Rumours’) and even the Beatles White Album. Life is hard after success and then you die!

The reason I started to think about this was that I had cause to listen to Crowded House’s ‘Together Alone’, the follow up to ‘Woodface’. Of course, ‘Woodface’ was a monster hit for Neil Finn and Co and deservedly so. It had great songs and with elder brother Tim temporarily in the fold it benefited from the sort of vocal harmonies that only family members can produce (see also The Beach Boys, Everly Brothers, Bee Gees and so on).

But ‘Together Alone’ is still a great album in its own right. It has an organic almost ethnic feel to it that grows in stature with subsequent listenings. It is almost a piece of New Zealand in musical form that reaches out across international boundaries. It is also a much more consistent album than ‘Woodface’ which I feel begins to fade about two thirds of the way through as the songwriting begins to lose its way. In many ways ‘Together Alone’ is a much more self-sufficient album and it contains the swoon-inducing 'Nails in my Feet', one of Finn's best songs.

The tragedy is that it will never be quite seen in that light as a result of having to share a discography with ‘Woodface’. It’s a bit like having a younger cheekier brother, for whom everything always turns out right. How it must hate it!

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