Originally released in August 1986, Crowded House's self-titled debut quickly propelled the Australian rock band to superstardom. The album spawned multiple hit singles that still endure today, including “World Where You Live,” “Something So Strong,” and their signature song “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

Over the next three decades, the band went on to record seven more studio albums and sell more than 20 million records worldwide. They’ve also split and reformed twice, becoming inactive first from 1996-2006 and then again from 2011-2019. In 2018, during the second hiatus, lead singer/songwriter Neil Finn briefly became a touring member of Fleetwood Mac following Lindsay Buckingham’s departure.

Produced by Steven Schram (Paul Kelly, Midlife) and released through BMG Rights Management on May 31, Crowded House’s latest album Gravity Stairs is their second to feature the current lineup of Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mitchell Froom, and Neil’s sons Elroy and Liam Finn. The artwork, clearly inspired by Klaus Voorman’s iconic cover for The Beatles’ Revolver (1966), cleverly hints at the dreamy, gently-psychedelic nature of these new songs.

Crowded House SDE Gravity Stairs Dolby Atmos Blu-Ray IAA

In addition to the standard two-channel stereo version, Steven Schram has also created a Dolby Atmos mix of the album. Though this is the band’s first Atmos release, Crowded House are no strangers to multichannel audio. Way back in 2002, their debut album received a high-resolution DVD-Audio release containing a fantastic 5.1 surround sound mix from Steve Genewick. 

Though you can stream the Atmos mix on platforms that support immersive audio such as Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music, it’s also available on an audio-only Blu-Ray disc sold exclusively through SuperDeluxeEdition.com. Gravity Stairs is the 22nd entry in their ‘Surround Series’ of Pure Audio Blu-Rays with spatial audio mixes, which began in 2022 with Tears For Fears’ The Tipping Point. The Blu-Ray additionally includes an exclusive DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix as well as a two-channel instrumental mix.

The Dolby Atmos mix is phenomenal and certainly the best way to experience the new album. Each of the 11 songs are overflowing with layers upon layers of multi-tracked vocals, guitars, keyboards, and percussion, making it a perfect candidate for the format. Schram has made full use of the immersive soundstage to unpack these dense arrangements all around the listener, with unique elements assigned to the side, rear, and height channels in a 7.1.4 speaker system.

Crowded House SDE Gravity Stairs Dolby Atmos Blu-Ray IAA

“Magic Piano” kicks off with a bit of studio chatter, before a synthesizer line drifting left-to-right overhead announces the arrival of the band. Neil Finn’s vocals and the rhythm section stay largely upfront, while harmonies envelop the listener from the side and rear channels.

Though the second track was originally called “Life’s Imitation,” the band later opted to retitle it to “Teenage Summer.” All the digital releases of Gravity Stairs reflect this last-minute change, but many of the physical editions had already been manufactured. I was surprised to find that not only does the Blu-Ray still list the original title, but it also uses a slightly-different edit of the song. The short vocal intro heard on the streaming version ('are we gonna have some teenage summer…') is interestingly not present here.

Electric rhythm guitars fill up the side surrounds for “The Howl,” playing nicely off the strummed acoustic upfront. “Oh Hi” opens with a keyboard line just right-of-center, quickly giving way to a synth blast from behind. Percussion and backing vocals float in from overhead at key moments, while Finn’s ‘that’s what I came here for’ at 2:13 appears solely from the side surrounds to great effect.

From there, we move into one of my favorite tracks on the album–the tender ballad “Some Greater Plan (For Claire).” It starts with an acoustic guitar in the front speakers and a ukulele centered in the rear surrounds, hovering directly behind the listener’s head. Keyboards soon fill up the sides, with layered harmony vocals appearing overhead during the chorus.

“Black Water, White Circle” is certainly one of the most impressive tracks from an immersive standpoint. Percussion hovers directly overhead, while the backing vocals alternate between the side and rear speakers. There’s an especially fun moment at around the two-minute mark, where the lead vocals ('she is the force that led me…') move up to the height array.

“Blurry Grass” again shows off the extremely-directional nature of the mix, as the short vocal intro comes entirely from the rear surrounds.  The bouncy “I Can’t Keep Up With You” is another highlight, with the psychedelic synthesizer effects oscillating between the top and bottom speakers. The ending of this song is truly something to behold in Atmos, as the lead guitar comes blasting in from the front heights.

“Thirsty,” another largely-acoustic ballad, opens with different acoustic guitars divided between the front and rear speakers. Percussion hovers above the drum kit from the front heights, while harmony vocals and slide guitar fill out the side surrounds.

Gravity Stairs concludes with the R&B-infused “Night Song,” yet another standout track. The low-end response through this song is just fantastic–you can really feel the ‘punch’ in the kick drum, but it never becomes overbearing. Towards the end, a huge chorus of background singers fills up both the side and rear speakers while Neil Finn’s voice stays locked to the front stage.

Overall, this release ranks among my favorite entries in the SDE Surround Series thus far (including Tears For Fears’ The Hurting, xPropaganda’s The Heart Is Strange, and ABC’s The Lexicon of Love). Steven Schram’s Dolby Atmos mix is a showstopper, effectively bombarding the listener from all angles without losing the cohesion and impact of the music.

As Neil Finn hinted in a recent interview with SDE’s Paul Sinclair, I'm hopeful Schram will soon get the chance to work on immersive remixes of past Crowded House records such as 1991’s Woodface and 1993’s Together Alone.

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.