Crowded House, Intriguer

What impresses me most about this album is how, like a boat deftly piloted between hostile cliffs and crags, it brings you some dramatic scenery without smashing on the rocks. There's enough alternative edge without veering into grunge ("Inside Out"), enough texture without getting caught up in snobbery ("Saturday Sun") or moroseness ("Archer's Arrows," "Either Side of the World"), and sunny beats without drowning in sugar ("Twice If You're Lucky"). Heck, there's even a touch of country without being clichéd ("Elephants"). The slashed wallpaper cover unnerves me and the lyrics sometimes seem better on paper, but Neil Finn's earnest vocals never back down, and the guitar, melodies and luxurious backing deliver especially with Yank import drummer Matt Sherrod coming into his own after Time on Earth. Easily their best work since their first life in the late '80s. The deluxe version DVD includes the music video for "Saturday Sun," some live concert film from Auckland and an extended studio recording session, but unless you've got a jones for a Kiwi concert and don't want to buy a plane ticket, only the live cut "Don't Dream It's Over" gives you something new. (Content: no concerns.)