[Click hear ‘Pour Le Monde‘]
With the good news of Crowded House coming together again last year, both in the studio as well as on the road, came the reminder of the death of friend and founding member, Paul Hester. Hester was the band’s Ringo, not just because he was the drummer, but because he was in many ways the spirit of the band. He was funny, affable, but also troubled at the same time. It might be argued that Neil Finn’s “Leonard and McCartney” (as in Leonard Cohen…) dual-natured songwriting was lived by Hester, who suffered from chronic manic depression. He committed suicide in 2005.
While on the road with Tim Finn as the Finn Brothers, Neil Finn invited former Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour on stage to pay tribute to Paul Hester at the Royal Albert Hall on the evening of March 28 that year. The appearance drove the eventual re-launch of Crowded House, re-uniting members Nick Seymour on bass, and multi-instrumentalist and latter-day addition to the group Marc Hart. With the hiring of a new drummer in Matt Sharod, the band were ready for a record and a tour.
The new album was fueled by songs which Neil Finn was originally planning for a solo project. And much of the emotional content there was concerned with Paul Hester’s passing. In some ways, this tune arguably contains the whole story about the reformation of Crowded House (“And I wake up blind/Like my dreams were too bright/And I lost my regard/For the good things that I had “), grouped in with a leaden awareness of losing a member and a friend (“He’s the best you ever had”). The resulting record, while not somber by any stretch, is marked by a certain melancholy more so than in albums past. Ultimately, I think this makes for a very engaging album which I hope will present Finn and the band with the momentum needed to carry them into the next record.
I’m sure that the spirit of Hester will still be present while this group remains to be a going concern, as he was when he was alive and drumming with them. Tales of his exploits while with the band (appearing naked on stage during a Neil Finn solo piano spot while grinning ear to ear, being one) were affectionately recounted from the stage during the show I saw. But, I think the opening line, “he imagines the world/as the angels ascending/like the ghost of the man/who is tied up to the chair” is telling of a writer who is likely to leave the past behind, celebrating the memory, but not being held by it. I think this bodes well for the life of the group. But, we’ll see.
Just as an aside, I cannot over-emphasize just how enjoyable the band’s live 2-disc set Farewell to the World is. Not only does this give the first-time listener a grand view of what this band was like to see live, it also gives you a glimpse into Paul Hester’s charisma, joie de vivre, and playful sense of mischief while on stage.
If you are new to Crowded House, want an overview of the band’s catalogue, or are wondering what all the fuss is about, then you should start here. This was the group’s last performance with Hester in the drum seat, recorded (and filmed too) at the steps of the Sydney Opera House in November 1996.