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RECORD RACK

**** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : Crowded House--Hooky, Introspective Pop

July 17, 1988|STEVE HOCHMAN

*** 1/2 CROWDED HOUSE. "Temple of Low Men." Capitol.

The Australian trio's 1986 debut was so full of instantly indelible hooks that the follow-up was bound to be a disappointment. Well, it is--but only a little, and only on first hearing. The hooks are more complex this time, and reveal themselves more slowly. But when they do, they dig in deep and don't let go. And tied to them are rich arrangements and rewarding lyrics, making this record as a whole actually superior to its predecessor.

House's head honcho Neil Finn has turned introspective this time out, with some fairly dark results--as indicated by such song titles as "I Feel Possessed," "Never Be the Same" and "Lowlands." (Then again, the debut wasn't exactly a cheer fest, lyrics-wise.)

Yet no matter how much about loss, betrayal and regret, these Mitchell Froom-produced songs carry a sense of hope that soars on the wings of the music in a way reminiscent of John Lennon (Finn's voice shares some of the same versatility and power) and Richard Thompson (whose stunning-as-usual guitar graces the boppish "Sister Madly").

And like those two, guitarist Finn, drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour prove equally capable of conveying consuming anger ("Kill I") as expansive sentimentality ("Better Be Home Soon"). Though Crowded House only has two albums under its belt, it may not be too early to hold it up as one of the great pop groups of the late '80s.

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