Album Reviews

Crowded House – Gravity Stairs

(BMG) UK release date: 31 May 2024


A welcome reminder that the Finn family are still going strong, with upbeat, breezy numbers set against languid, deliberately paced tracks

Crowded House - Gravity Stairs Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Crowded House forming – and it’s clear that ageing and mortality are on Neil Finn‘s mind. Finn’s described the inspiration for Gravity Stairs’ title as “a metaphor for getting older – things are a little harder and there’s more determination needed to get to the top, but there’s the same compulsion to climb them”.

By which description, you may imagine that listening to Crowded House’s eighth album may be a bit of a slog. Admittedly, it’s not packed with instantly catchy songs like Weather With You or Don’t Dream It’s Over, but the Kiwis have evolved over the years: certainly, the addition of Finn’s two sons, Liam and Elroy (who officially joined the band in 2021 after being touring members for years) has given the band a fresh new dimension.

Gravity Stairs seems to be divided into two kinds of songs: there’s the upbeat, breezy numbers and then there’s the more languid, deliberately paced tracks, full of harmonies and gently strummed guitars. While Crowded House are past masters of both sorts of track, Gravity Stairs could have benefitted from a few more of the former.

Teenage Summer, for example, is terrific. A big, jangly acoustic number with a chorus that positively soars, it’s the sort of song that improves on every listen. Oh Hi is another quirky, catchy number – the lyrics were influenced by Finn’s work with a charity who build schools in Kenya and Tanzania, and reflect the importance of not giving up, no matter how strange the world becomes: “The world’s crazy, that’s for sure, and there’s something wrong with the state of my head, but i know you can get to the heart of it.”

The less immediate tracks work equally well, for the most part. The Howl has a lovely, windswept quality to it, reminiscent of the band’s best album Together Alone. Some Greater Plan continues the theme of pondering over global chaos that threads the album together – “we gave up on the world somehow”, runs the chorus. It’s no secret that Crowded House have a love of all things The Beatles (the cover for Gravity Stairs is a full-on homage to Revolver after all), and Blurry Grass has a choppy guitar line reminiscent of the Fab Four, while there’s a definite Rubber Soul feel to I Can’t Keep Up With You.

There are a few moments that sound quite forgettable, such as Black Water White Circle, and sometimes it seems as if tracks like Thirsty are just retreading on past glories. And yet, as if to stick two fingers up at those who would berate Crowded House for playing it safe, along comes the closing track Night Song, which is a pleasingly woozy, disorienting end to the album – full of weird tempo changes, you’re not entirely sure where it’s going.

There probably won’t be too much on Gravity Stairs to attract any new fans to Crowded House, but after 40 years that’s probably the last thing they’re bothered about. Their heyday in the ’90s may be behind them, but this is a welcome reminder that the Finn family are still going strong.


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