Distant Sun (N Finn) 1993 and Private Universe (N Finn) 1994- Crowded House

CH70While Tim took himself off to a Bhuddist retreat in the Blue Mountains for a period of quiet contemplation following his sacking from the band in 1993, the remaining  trio got together again in New Zealand with new guitarist Mark Hart (above), where Neil had purchased a house in the leafy suburb of  Parnell (Auckland).(below)CH30A new producer also arrived, Youth (Martin Glover, below), who had produced for such artists as Dido, the Sugarcubes, U2 and the Verve, and would create the next House album.CH45Together Alone was the band’s fourth album and unique in that it was recorded in a remote “bach” (beach house) in New Zealand above a cove called Karekare, and also for the industrial quantities of pot smoked by all concerned throughout the sessions.CH60The album is reflective of its place of origin, a windswept coastline, where Jane Campion had filmed The Piano,  and where the tribal rhythms of the native Maori people would permeate the music, the album would become a love letter to Neil Finn’s homeland, in comparison with the sun-drenched pop of Woodface that emanated from Australia.CH72Neil Finn was writing from the heart as always, but his songs were taking on a more ghostly, ethereal quality, far-removed from the radio-friendly pop of previous albums, it was more mature, sophisticated, and artistically his most accomplished work. The first single off the album was Distant Sun and it was sublime guitar pop, at the intro Neil strums a six-string acoustic guitar and is followed by Mark Hart’s 12-string riff, Seymour’s understated bass and Hester’s sensitive drum time signature weave their way through the mix. Distant Sun is a tormented love song, the protagonist is unsure where he stands, he wants to give love but fears that it may be unrequited, the opening verse nails it “Tell me what you would change/I don’t pretend to know what you want/ When you come around and spin my top,/Time and again, time and again.” The song is infused with the roller coaster of human emotions – trust, betrayal, grief, euphoria, love, heartache, bliss and anger “No fire where I lit my spark/ I am not afraid of the dark/ Where your words devour my heart/ And put me to shame, put me to shame.”

The promo clip opens with a Ulysses butterfly sitting on an antique book, and transforms into a spinning globe which becomes an apple, water and rainfall inspire floating geometric shapes as Neil is filmed  solo in close-up as he performs, the other band members briefly appear, including guitarist Mark Hart for the first time in a Crowded House promo. It was melancholic, arty, and perfectly complemented the hushed tones of the song. Distant Sun charted #19 in the UK, top five in NZ and #24 in Aust; but by now Crowded House did not have a supportive fan base in the US.CH17The singles Nails in My Feet and Locked Out came and went without any major impact in Australia, and in November 1994 Private Universe peaked in Australia at #60, another gem of a song from Neil Finn that was competing in a market dominated by grunge, boy bands, power ballads and big hair rock. Neil Finn’s epiphany to the storm-swept landscape of his birth country and the musical traditions of its indigenous people was always going to struggle to succeed outside NZ. Unlike many Neil Finn songs Private Universe is however quite lucid and yet very atmospheric, Finn was inspired by birds that were nesting in a palm tree on his property, their joyous freedom of flight, an endless summer, this was Neil’s private universe. He also recalled his idyllic childhood in Te Awamutu and the family garden and orchard in the lyrics  “Highest branch of the apple tree/ It was my favourite place to be/ I could hear them breaking free/ But they could not see me.” The spacious effect heard on the guitar backing to the chorus, used real open space, to create the al fresco affect, Mark Hart sat in the back garden of the “bach” playing his guitar with the amp turned up, mics were placed at each end of the surrounding bay at Karekare beach, to record the song. Former Split Enz bandmate Noel Crombie provided additional percussion, as did Maori log drummers, and Sharon Finn contributed backing vocals.

The promo video for Private Universe was shot on the wildly remote White Island, an active volcano off the coast of Mount Maunganui, which was the scene of a terrible accident in 2019 when 47 passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas took a shore excursion to the island on December 9. An eruption sent a stream of volcanic gases, rock, ash, and steam over three kilometers into the air, killing 21 of the passengers and seriously injuring another 26 who sustained severe burns, experts agreed that the privately-owned White island was “an accident waiting to happen.”CH47Together Alone charted #3 in UK and Australia, #2 in NZ, and top 40 in four European countries, whilst touring the US to promote the album, Paul Hester announced his retirement in Atlanta, on April 14, 1994.On Nov 24 1996 Crowded House held a Farewell to the World Concert outside the footsteps of the famed Sydney Opera House in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, all past band members were invited to participate including Paul Hester who had retired, Tim Finn, and tour drummer Peter Jones, and You Am I and Powderfinger, were support acts.

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