With richly melodic songs that captured the whimsy and wistfulness of falling in love without ever seeming calculated or maudlin, Crowded House’s self-titled 1986 debut album came about as close to being perfect pop as anything that was released that decade. On the band’s new, third album, Woodface, singer-songwriter-guitarist Neil Finn continues to prove himself one of the canniest and most gifted melodists around, and here he’s given vocal and songwriting assistance by singer-pianist Tim Finn, his brother and former bandmate in Split Enz, whose plaintive tenor makes for some spine-tingling harmonies. The beauty of the music is, however, sometimes mired in a self-conscious sardonicism that, more than a decade after New Wave came along to mock every musical and cultural movement that preceded it, seems a bit tired. Best are the romantic ballads, particularly the buoyant ”It’s Only Natural” and ”She Goes On,” which features the most elegantly elegiac melody line you’re likely to hear this year. B+

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