ALBUM REVIEW: Crowded House – Gravity Stairs

4.5 rating

Three years after the release of their critically acclaimed seventh album Dreamers are Waiting, legendary band Crowded House, send forth their latest effort, Gravity Stairs. The album reflects a dreamy quality but is as lyrically direct as all of lead singer Neil Finn’s efforts have been in the past.

Crowded House with the beautiful songs on the release are proving that thoughtful pop songs remain in demand. On Gravity Stairs, Finn and Co. present some of the best songs of their career some four decades after their first release in 1985.

Gravity Stairs was produced by Crowded House with Steven Schram. The lineup this go-round consists of OG members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, adding in Neil’s sons Elroy and Liam while seeing long-time producer Mitchell Froom switch out from the production chair to full-belted member of the band. Crowded House reveals they are continuing as they started with a new configuration to cover all the musical bases.

The name of the album came from a stone staircase in Greece near where Neil Finn vacations. This staircase induced Finn to wonder how times change and become aware we are getting older. He states, “The title is a metaphor for getting a little older and becoming aware of your own mortality and physicality… Also the compulsion to climb more determined to get to the top.” also of note is the cover of the album which is a pastiche to the Beatle’s Revolver, created by Seymour. The title and the cover indicate we are in for another slice of unique Crowded House melody and contemplation.

Gravity Stairs begins with “Magic Piano” a track that combines the classic sounds of Crowded House with the Beatles sensibilities. The song has the reference to the titled stairs as being figurative and literal steps in life. The track is filled with glimmering pianos, as it dreamily discusses the changes in life. It is beautifully constructed and in the end floats away into the ether with the lyric, “Life is the love I was given once.” Overall the track encompasses all the musical mastery that will be on display throughout the album.

“Teenage Summer” marries an organ with the band’s legendary Maori guitar strum and outstanding drum work. The song speaks to the madness of youth, as the lyrics speak to the current reality vs. the imitations of life, the façade we all try to display. Finn’s lyrics always contain wisdom, and here Finn looks at how the experiences of life inform the make-up of a person. It is an uplifting and delightful track.

“The Howl” has an alluring country rock vibe with a pop bounce conveyed by glorious guitar riffs. The song spirals higher till the midsection then winds down using an impressive sonic structure. “All That I Can Ever Own” is reminiscent of Neil’s solo works as he counts his blessings, recounting intimate moments; holding a grandchild, a long-term marriage and a life of purpose. He weighs this against his own sleeplessness, worries and possible losses. His conclusion is he has come up with a winner. The takeaway realization is that no matter how gloomy Crowded House can get, there is always a positivity that shines through even the darkest moments.

“Oh Hi” is the first single off the album released with an engaging video. The song is filled with joy and hope. Finn avers how children hold such potential to do better than the grownups. The pop track is engaging and shows off the great maturity of Crowded House as they pack a pop punch.

The “do not miss track” of the album “Some Greater Plan” draws its inspiration from Finn’s father who passed in 2019. The song refers to a wartime romance his father had during WWII. It meditates on being part of the greater plan, “Do you want to be part of some greater plan? …Do you want to be part of healing this broken man?” The song expands into questioning the listener if they want to be part of making good things occur and that not everything is predestined, we can still change things for the better. This song is a definite entrant into the pantheon of great Crowded House songs.

“Black Water, White Circle” gets under your skin. The song gives off a tribal vibe, as it combines dramatic drums with guitar resulting in a psychedelic smooth edge track. “Blurry Grass” has a very early Crowded House vibe as a wah-wah pedal-laden rocker. It feels linked to the next track “I Can’t Keep Up With You.” This mid-tempo selection contains fantastic guitar play and is very reminiscent of Finn’s solo work on Dizzy Heights. The two tracks are brilliant in their sequencing and complement each other.

“Thirsty” contains some brilliant drum play that combined with the Crowded House guitar Maori Strum makes for a thing of beauty. It is one of the highlights of the album for Crowdies. Finn displays a yearning for beauty and harkens back to the melancholy of Temple of Low Men. Always the wordsmith, Finn draws the parallels between a never-ending search for beauty and striving to live a purposeful life knowing it must end, “Blow out the candle, fade to black.”  “Thirsty” is a simply dazzling track that is a must-listen.

The final track, “Night Song,” has all the amazing elements that comprise Crowded House songs; lovely bass work, alluring piano work, unique guitar sonics and great construction. The listener feels transported to a jazz club where Finn lays down his final realizations conveyed by a steam-of-consciousness lyric. The song ends with a recording Finn made while trying to get to sleep as a street person keeps him up with his monologue.

Gravity Stairs is a worthy addition to the illustrious discography of Crowded House. As with any album the band decides to release, it is yet again an inspired collection of both lyrical insights and sonic delights. Neil Finn is a man gifted with the ability to paint a picture and put it to song along with the band he fronts. Invariably Gravity Stairs is an example of precision Crowded House song crafting. On the release Crowded House shows off what they excel at which is taking the listener on a journey, acknowledging the good and bad of life while suspending reality for a while offering a refuge from the world and its discord.



Xsnoize Author
Lori Gava 346 Articles
Lori has been with XS Noize from the beginning and contributes album reviews regularly.Fav bands/artists: Radiohead, U2, The Cure, Arcade Fire, The Twilight Sad, Beck, Foals, Sufjan StevensFav Albums: In Rainbows, Achtung Baby, Disintegration, Funeral, Sea Change, Holy Fire, Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave.

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