Friday, February 8, 2013

Favorite Song Friday: Weather With You

Favorite Song Friday kicks off today with a question.

Whither Crowded House?

Shouldn’t they have been huge?

Granted they came about at a time in the late 1980s when glam/Aquanet rock ruled the roost, but still, they had the pedigree and the talent to shine through any era of musical darkness.

For starters, they hailed from Down Under at a time when things from Down Under were pretty popular. Sure, Men at Work had already come and gone, but Paul Hogan had thoroughly (if inexpicably) enraptured America by this time with his “Crocodile Dundee” movies, and even something or someone called Yahoo Serious had broken out as a multi-media star. Australia and New Zealand, they were happening places at the end of the Reagan era.

That’s where Crowded House came from. New Zealander Neil Finn, the front man, joined with Australians Paul Hester and Nick Seymour (and later Neil’s brother Tim) to form a band that seemed to have it all. The songs were catchy and bright, and even when they slowed it down for the ballads there was an easy hummability to it. They employed Beatle-ish harmonies as few bands of that day could. They knew how to write meaningful lyrics—sometimes funny and sometimes quite obscure, they always fit in with the quirky sensibilities the band clearly felt at home catering to.

Hell, they even had an impressive past—the Finn brothers had been responsible earlier in the decade (and even a little before, I think) for post-punk forerunners Split Enz, a gonzo little band that traversed the lines between prog and new wave and was responsible for one of the most irresistible songs of the 1980s or, frankly, any decade: “I Got You.”

Crowded House’s eponymous debut came out in 1986 and it was among the first CDs I ever recall listening to. And I will insist today and tomorrow and forever that few bands ever began their recording career as audaciously as this band did, where from the very first moment the music begins (with leadoff track "Mean to Me")  Neil Finn owns the room, belting out with nothing else around him, “She came alllllll the way from Ameri, she had a blind date with destiny...” From that moment you began to listen, Crowded House was exciting and delightful and begged you to hear more.

It’s their third album (and arguably their best), 1991’s Woodface, that delivers to us today’s installment of Favorite Song Friday.

Favorite Song Friday – Crowded House – “Weather With You”

“Weather With You” is one of the most unusually structured songs I have ever heard. First and foremost it really is more like three different songs in one, and each movement is somewhat detached from the other. Which is not uncommon when listening to, say, a song by Yes (think “And You and I” or “Starship Trooper”) or something else in the prog variety. But a 3:45 radio-friendly song? Much more unusual.

The song begins with a vaguely Eastern tint to it, a loping and curious beat that doesn’t give much of a hint as to where the song is headed. Particularly once the cryptic lyrics start:

Walking ‘round the room singing ‘Stormy Weather’
At 57 Mount Pleasant Street
Well it’s the same room but everything’s different
You can fight the sleep but not the dream

The second movement section of the song kicks in with a much more deliberate signature, one that seems more in touch with the band’s new wave roots. Its one consistency with the first part of the song is something that quickly becomes one of the song’s trump cards: the airtight harmonies of the Finn Brothers. Even though the lyrics, again, don’t give much of a clue as to what is really going on.

Things ain’t cookin’ in my kitchen
Strange affliction wash over me
Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire
Couldn’t conquer the blue sky

The writing is really kind of exquisite, even if it doesn’t make much sense, with an interior meter and rhyme scheme that helps to build a tension that makes us truly curious as to what’s coming next.

And then, we’re back to part one, those Eastern inflections in the guitar line taking us back out of the more standard rhythm and into, yet again, more strange but highly enticing images:

Well there’s a small boat made of china
It’s going nowhere on the mantelpiece
Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard?
Or do I sing like a bird released?

The “Huh?” factor hits record levels as the Finns sing those gorgeous final two lines, and then, in astonishing fashion, the song instantly launches into the third and final part. It turns on a dime and brings us to a place where everything we have invested in this song pays off in spades.

The third section, which also serves as the chorus, somehow, someway perfectly resolves the first two by simply delivering to us glowing pop splendor. This final part, where the song’s title at last comes to the fore and where we will remain until the song is over, is a magnificent and soaring affirmation, with sweet bounding chords backing the Finn Brothers as they sing over and over again the same odd but, somehow, wonderfully fitting lines:

Everywhere you go
Always take the weather with you
Everywhere you go
Always take the weather

They sing the verse through twice, and then pause for some spooky instrumentation, before coming back in full tilt with another eight-line reading that makes “Weather With You” indelible and infinite. A final run-through of the chorus, first from Neil in near a cappella mode and then finally with the full band joining in, ends the song with an almost redemptive joy.

Again, the beauty of “Weather With You” is how all three parts somehow work together and ultimately blend seamlessly into a fully realized (albeit very much offbeat) love song. No answers are given as to what a china boat has to do with it, or where Mount Pleasant Street might be, or why we're involving Julius Caesar at all. But we don’t really need to know, do we? Because like with all great music, the finished product is all that matters, and we get it. Somehow through all the obliqueness and the stylistic irreverence of what we just heard, we get it.

A song like "Weather With You" (not to mention other magnificent tracks from throughout their career like "Distant Sun" and "Better Be Home Soon" and their first and biggest hit, "Don't Dream It's Over") really make me wonder why Crowded House wasn't bigger, why they weren't, say, one of the bigger and more popular bands of the 1990s.

But like the magic of "Weather With You," the answer is something we likely won't find. And likely don't need to.

“Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you.”

Sounds good to me. Whatever it means, it sounds so, so good.

1 comment:

  1. Well played. Great choice. Neil Finn is one of the most consistently good pop song writers today. 'Weather with You' was (and is) a showcase song for the band to do a bit of ad-libbing and call/response exercises with their audience.