2014 will see the release of the first Neil Finn solo studio album since 2001’s “One Nil”. New record “Dizzy Heights” is out in February next year but you can hear two tracks off the album with “Divebomber” and “Flying in the face of love” having been released on youtube already. Finn has played a couple of showcase gigs – one in the US and one in the UK – to present the new material, and the reception has so far been positive.
I’m nervous. And it’s his own fault. He’s one of the finest artists there has ever been. Finn is the full package, combining the ability to deliver lyrics that perfectly capture that place, that feeling, that experience, as well as melodies that are utterly irresistible, and finally the voice and the musical skills to deliver definitive performances of that material. In a sense, Finn’s material ought to be amongst the most-covered around, but it isn’t. I guess that one of the reasons why might be that people find it so difficult to work out how to do it differently and/or better.
So the bar is high for any new release. And I’m not a blinkered fan; there is plenty of Finn material that I don’t own. I haven’t got any Split Enz and I haven’t felt compelled, despite being a Crowded House fan since 1991’s ‘Woodface’, to investigate them in all this time. I thought the ‘Finn’ album (1995) was a major misfire although 2004’s ‘Everyone is Here’ restored a fair amount of my faith in the Tim-Neil axis. I haven’t bothered with the second shot of the 7 Worlds Collide project, because I found most of the 2001 debut to be a bit dull. I don’t have Pajama Party: ‘Tell Me What You Want’ was fine but no more, and nothing else I heard of them demanded listening. In terms of Crowded House (II) I finally bought ‘Time on Earth’ (2007) earlier this year after falling heavily for ‘Don’t Stop Now’ and I think there are some tracks on there that are every bit as good as Crowded House (I). Still haven’t got round to 2010’s ‘Intriguer’…
Solo Neil I have enjoyed throughout. Both ‘Try Whistling This’ (1998) and ‘One Nil’ (2001) are patchy but, along with the other adventures listed above, they’re evidence of a quality vital in artists that you respect, not just enjoy: the desire to experiment and take risks. Crowded House (I) never stood still – and Neil Finn has continued that sonic questing ever since they first split. A huge roster of collaborators, learning new instruments, more frequent forays into electronics and roots – only the ludicrous stones left unturned really.
So what are we in for ? ‘Flying in the face of love’ attempts some sort of polite funk during the verse (wah-wah, descending bass) but thank goodness for the chorus where Finn’s knack for a tune comes back into evidence and there’s finally something to listen to. I particularly like the layered vocals – but then Neil Finn has always had a wonderful way with vocal tracks. The bassline is still there, slightly-funkily out of place, however, and there is a needlessly over-long outro with wailing guitars.
I could probably go for the above as an album track, but after that slight disappointment, there’s ‘Divebombers’. I really don’t know what to make of it. I’ve listened to it over and over and I still can’t make out what I think of it. After the first thirty seconds of minimalism, there’s nearly thirty more of, er, divebombers (and whistling ?). Over the next thirty the track nearly rescues itself with some ethereal voices winding in and out of each other. Then there’s more divebombers. Apocalyptic brass arrangements and marching drums underscore a falsetto that, when it hits the mark, is ghostly, and crushingly emotive; but Finn’s falsetto isn’t what it used to be. Occasionally it seems to wander away from any sort of sense, and there are also moments when the voice and the music totally part company. But there’s something there; this might be brilliant, but it might also be much less than that. Make up your mind, eh ?
If you can find tickets, you can catch Neil Finn playing in the UK at the end of April and start of May next year (Manchester on 27 April, for example, and London on 3 May). On the basis of the reviews that I’ve seen of those showcases, if not the advance release tracks, they’re worth shopping for.
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