Episode seven of Non-Album Tracks - the series dedicated to songs not found on proper albums, but possessing proper quality nonetheless.
Crowded House – ‘Instinct’
Recurring Dream: The Very Best Of Crowded House [Compilation - 1996]
Also available on:
‘Instinct’ [Single - 1996]
The Very Very Best of Crowded House [Compilation - 2010]
“Greatest Hits”/”Best Of” compilations are often looked upon with scorn and/or ridicule as blatantly commercial moves – attempts to cash in on belated success, the announcement of a break-up, or just to fill gaps in release schedules. Artists, of course, will claim that their best-of “album” is some kind of consolidation of their career so far, a chance to take stock before moving on with their career. (Or they’ll go out of their way to point out that the record company is releasing the compilation without their involvement – which is fair enough, I suppose/)
A particular source of derision is the (almost-mandatory) inclusion of one or two new and/or previously unreleased tracks. Artists might claim that these new tracks point towards the future of the band, or something like that. The cynical argument is that their sole purpose is to lure in existing fans who already own the hits on existing releases and get them to shell out for the new release.
The cynics may have their points, but I find it hard to dismiss the existence of best-of compilations. For one, they’re great for casual listeners of a band. And they can serve as an appropriate introduction, leading to further exploration of an artist’s back catalogue. (Who knows where my musical taste would be today, had I not picked up Pixies’ 1997 Death to the Pixies compilation.) And in many cases, they’re simply the most solid releases for some acts. We’ve all waded through plenty of album filler in our times.
And those songs in the “obligatory new one” category are, like EP tracks, b-sides and songs from soundtracks, often superb – worthy additions to the artist’s canon.
My relationship with Crowded House has probably always been in the “casual listener” class. Recurring Dream is still the only audio release of theirs I own (I did also buy their Farewell to the Word video) – I’ve never gone on to listen to any of the studio albums from which its songs emanate. Which is a bit strange, since my relationship with the compilation itself is far from casual. I’ve listened to it literally hundreds of times. I know all of the songs back-to-front. I freaking love it. And still, I haven’t got any of their proper albums. Odd. Perhaps I’ll get them now…
When I did get it – I don’t think it was too long after its release in mid-1996 – I was not at all familiar with the bulk of it. ‘Weather With You’ had been a fairly big track over here (it seemed to be played incessantly – although that could have just been its repetitive chorus…), so I knew that. I also remembered ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ very well, though mostly for its use in the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, where Molly Ringwald plays it for Parker Lewis.
‘It’s Only Natural’, ‘Fall At Your Feet’ and ‘Locked Out’ had also been familiar to me when I heard them on the CD, but that still left 14 other, “new”, tracks. With that lack of prior knowledge – and, especially, because the track-listing was not chronological – I was unaware of which ones (if any) were actual new ones. Looking at them now, even the liner notes are quite subtle about which songs come from where. This allowed me to digest all this unknown material free from any bias. I couldn’t be cynical about tacked-on new tracks, because I simply didn’t know which ones they were.
Of this trove of unfamiliar material, three songs stood out to me. Two had been singles from their fourth album, Together Alone - the scintillating ‘Private Universe’ and the majestic ‘Distant Sun’. And the third was, interestingly enough, one of the new ones – ‘Instinct’:
Now, the video is terrible. The band themselves acknowledge this and made sure it wasn’t included on the Dreaming DVD compilation. But the song is great. It’s a case of tension and release. The verses are quite subdued and restrained, building up slightly in the final lines. The chorus then erupts, not in volume or aggression – the way a Pixies song would, but instead with a surge up. Neil Finn’s voice jumps up in pitch and additional instruments enter the fray. There is a more traditional eruption around the 1:49 mark, with a single bendy note solo thing. The song then flips, going into a quiet chorus, before heading into a driving, cinematic outro.
Lyrically, I don’t really know what he’s going on about. Something about your instinct not being wrong, no doubt. “Laughing at the stony face of gloom” is a pretty bad line to have at a climactic point, I have to say. On the other hand, “I lit the match” is a fantastic first line for a song.
There were two other new tracks on Recurring Dream, the Beatles-y ‘Not the Girl You Think You Are’ and ‘Everything is Good For You’, neither of which scale the heights of ‘Instinct’ and are probably two of the weakest tracks on the compilation, which doesn’t do much for the reputation of this category of songs.
Nevertheless, ‘Instinct’ proves that those possibly-opportunistic additions to ”Greatest Hits”/”Best Of” compilations cannot be summarily ignored or cast aside.