Neil Finn formed Crowded House during the waning days of Split Enz, the New Zealand institution that was given a boost in the early days by the addition of Finn, who penned “I Got You” and “History Never Repeats” for the group. Crowded House soon eclipsed the success of Split Enz not only in New Zealand but around the world, thanks to their enduring 1986 international smash “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Stardom came suddenly for Crowded House, but it wasn’t without its troubles. After landing one more Billboard Top Ten hit with 1987′s “Something So Strong,” Crowded House’s commercial fortunes collapsed in America, relegating them to the college rock circuit for their second album, 1988′s Temple of Low Men. The band added Tim Finn — former Split Enz leader and Neil’s brother — for Woodface, the album that gave them their breakthrough in the United Kingdom with the hits “Fall at Your Feet” and “Weather with You,” which went to number seven. Tim’s time with the group was brief: he left prior to 1994′s Together Alone, which wound up being the band’s last album for over a decade. Crowded House launched a farewell tour in 1996, by which time it was evident that the group had amassed a large international audience who were attracted to Neil Finn’s pop craftsmanship. Finn’s reputation as a songwriter only grew during the following decade, thanks to collaborations with Tim, a series of solo records, and a number of covers of Crowded House hits. During the recording of his third solo album, Finn reunited with Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour, kick-starting a process that led to a reunion and a pair of albums: 2007′s Time on Earth and 2010′s Intriguer. Another ten-year hiatus followed before Crowded House resurfaced in 2020, this time featuring Neil’s son Liam — a recording star in his own right — as a full member. This lineup released Dreamers Are Waiting the following year.
Crowded House formed in 1985 when Finn dissolved Split Enz rather than carry on after his brother Tim, the group’s founding member, left to pursue a solo career. Instead of carrying through with the new wave direction of latter-day Split Enz, Neil moved in favor of a stripped-down, back-to-basics combo featuring ex-Enz drummer Paul Hester, bassist Nick Seymour, and guitarist Craig Hooper. Initially, the group named itself after Finn’s middle name, touring Australia and recording demos under the name the Mullanes; Hooper was dropped shortly after this formative period. In June of 1985, the group headed to Los Angeles to shop for a record label, eventually signing with Capitol. Capitol requested that the band change its name, and the group settled on Crowded House, a reflection of the bandmembers’ living conditions in L.A. They began work on their debut, enlisting the help of then-unknown producer Mitchell Froom. A partnership between the band and the producer formed, making Froom nearly a fourth member. The partnership benefited both the band and the producer — the band was helped by Froom’s direct approach and more “American” sound, as well as his input as a musician, and Froom was able to build a career as a high-profile producer.
Crowded House’s self-titled debut didn’t gain much attention upon its release in the summer of 1986 due to insufficient promotion from Capitol Records. In wake of the weak support from Capitol, the bandmembers took matters into their own hands. Rather than setting out on an expensive large-scale tour, the group took a more low-profile route, playing acoustic sets for industry insiders and for small crowds at ethnic restaurants and in record stores. This unorthodox approach started a buzz within the industry. On the talk-show circuit, they won over American and Canadian audiences with their charm and wit as well as their wacky antics. By February of 1987, the album broke into the American Top 40, eventually peaking at number 12, and spawned the number two hit single “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong,” which reached number seven. In Australia and New Zealand, multi-platinum success followed.
Released in 1988, Temple of Low Men was anything but a sophomore slump — Finn’s new songs were among his finest, showcasing a notable progression in his songcraft. The album’s slightly darker material, however, made for a more difficult listen and, although the material was stronger, the record lacked the immediate appeal of the debut. This, coupled with Capitol’s lack of promotional support, led to disappointing sales — the album barely broke the U.S. Top 40, and the single “Better Be Home Soon” stalled at number 42. Since hope had basically run out for the album, they abandoned plans for a major U.S. tour. A three-month break in touring revitalized the band for a well-received Australian and Canadian tour, but by mid-1989 they had effectively broken up.
Late in 1989, Neil reunited with his brother Tim and the duo began writing songs together for the first time, with the intention of releasing the material on a proposed Finn Brothers album. The collaboration was successful and the duo was prolific, writing 14 songs in a very short time. After the initial sessions with Tim, Neil began working on a new set of songs, designed for the next Crowded House album, but he soon found the new material unsatisfactory. Neil decided to combine the better moments of the Finn Brothers project and the scrapped third album, adding his brother as a fourth member of Crowded House.
Crowded House’s third album, Woodface, released in the summer of 1991, proved the decision to combine the material from the two scrapped records was a sound one — the album certainly represents their finest recorded moments. Although the choice of “Chocolate Cake” as a leadoff single was both misleading and off-putting to American audiences, effectively sinking the album’s chances of success in the U.S., England and Europe embraced the band for the first time. After about six months of dormancy, they began charting in the U.K. and Europe with several singles, including the smash “Weather with You.” The British success of “Weather with You” helped Woodface achieve platinum status in the U.K. and led the group to several headlining concerts at Wembley Arena. Tim, for all of his invaluable contributions in the writing and recording of Woodface, proved extraneous to the band’s live show. He left the band in November 1991 while the band was in the middle of its tour, and just prior to its breakthrough success in England. Following the success of Woodface, both Neil and Tim were awarded OBEs from the Queen of England in 1993; the honor was bestowed for their contributions to the arts.
In early 1993, Crowded House regrouped to record their fourth album, adding American guitarist Mark Hart (who had briefly toured with the band around the time of Temple of Low Men) to the band and dropping Mitchell Froom as their producer, opting instead for ex-Killing Joke member Youth. Together Alone was released in October 1993 (January 1994 in North America) to unanimously positive reviews and solid sales in every country except the United States. Upon its release, Together Alone entered the English charts at number four; at the time, Woodface was still in the U.K. charts. After the album was released, Crowded House embarked on a successful European tour. They were beginning an American tour when Hester decided to leave to spend more time with his new family. Hiring a session drummer, the band rounded out the tour, eventually returning to Australia.
By the end of 1994, Neil decided to cut back on the touring to work on side projects, which included some production work for Dave Dobbyn and a second try at a Finn Brothers album with Tim. The Finn Brothers finally released their long-awaited duet album in the fall of 1995. In June of 1996, Neil officially broke up Crowded House. That same month, Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House was released, entering the U.K. and Australian charts at number one. After a handful of “final shows” in various locations, on Sunday, November 24, 1996, Crowded House played their official farewell show at the Sydney Opera House to 100,000 fans as a benefit for the Sydney Children’s Hospital Fund.
In 1997, Hester formed a new band, Largest Living Things, releasing two EPs and playing regular gigs in Australia as well as hosting his own television show. Neil made his debut as a solo artist in June 1998 with Try Whistling This. In December 1999, Afterglow, an album’s worth of Crowded House leftovers and rarities, was issued in Australia and New Zealand; the album was released in the U.K. during January of the following year.
Neil continued recording both as a solo artist and as part of the Finn Brothers with Tim. In 2005, Hester, after years of battling depression, took his own life near his home in Australia. A year later, the archival release Farewell to the World captured the Sydney farewell show on both CD and DVD. In 2007, Neil reactivated the band with Nick Seymour, Mark Hart, and new drummer Matt Sherrod. The album Time on Earth followed soon after. In 2010, Neil and the new Crowded House lineup returned with the studio album Intriguer. The group supported Intriguer with an international tour, during which time a new hits collection, The Very Very Best of Crowded House, appeared. Following the tour, the group went quiet, and in 2016 — the same year their catalog received a deluxe-edition treatment — Neil Finn announced the group was indeed on hiatus.
This hiatus lasted four years, during which time Neil released a solo album called Out of Silence and collaborated with his son Liam on 2018′s Lightsleeper. After touring with Fleetwood Mac on their 50th anniversary tour in 2018 and 2019, Finn turned his attention back to Crowded House, assembling a new lineup featuring his two sons, Liam and Elroy, along with Nick Seymour and Mitchell Froom. This version of Crowded House released their first single, “Whatever You Want,” in October 2020 and followed it up with “To the Island” early the next year. The new material had somewhat more of a rock sound than before, perhaps inspired by Finn’s stint in Fleetwood Mac. Crowded House’s seventh album, Dreamers Are Waiting, appeared in June 2021. ~ Chris Woodstra