NO ONE likes to admit it, but Paul McCartney remains a persistent influence on rock 'n' roll's new wave.
Songwriters such as Crowded House's Neil Finn, XTC's Andy Partridge, Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook and the dBs' Peter Holsapple have embraced McCartney's melodic craftsmanship and resilient romanticism. New Zealand's Crowded House (constructed from the broken pieces of Split Enz) have used the McCartneyesque pop hook of their single, "Don't Dream It's Over," to crack the American top-10 singles chart, and their debut album recalls McCartney's moody, artsy writing of the "Rubber Soul/Revolver" era.
Few things in pop music are as consistent as the pleasures of melody, and Finn's fine-grained tenor moves purposefully and rewardingly through chord after chord. His melodies build into the grand harmonies of "World Where You Live," the impassioned cry of "I Walk Away" and the hypnotic "hey now" of "Don't Dream It's Over." Finn's indifferent lyrics are rather vague parables with uplifting messages, but producer Mitchell Froom oversees the firmly rocking beat and slightly quirky effects that make the record sound more modern than nostalgic.
Paul Kelly has been a Springsteenish singer-songwriter in Australia for 10 years now, but "Gossip" is his first American release. It's a most welcome revelation. Kelly's tightly written stories about death, redemption and girlfriends are repeatedly marked by sly wit and memorable turns of phrase.
The muscular blue-collar-rock quintet and Kelly's dry, understated vocals cover a lot of stylistic territory, but everything is stamped by the band's down-to-earth conviction. Highlights include the exuberant memory song, "Leaps and Bounds"; the Biblical fable, "Don't Harm the Messenger"; and the Merseybeat heartbreak song, "Before Too Long." CROWDED HOUSE -- "Crowded House" (Capitol FXT-12485). PAUL KELLY & THE MESSENGERS -- "Gossip" (A&M SP-5157).
Both appearing Friday at the Warner Theater. Kelly & the Messengers also appear Monday at the Bayou.