Song of the Day, May 6: Only Talking Sense by Finn Brothers

FinnBrosFinnToday’s song is a long-delayed collaboration. The Finn brothers began their professional musical relationship when Neil joined Split Enz at his older brother Tim’s request. The siblings gradually settled into a shared leadership role, cemented with the band’s standout album, True Colours. When Tim left to go solo, Neil carried on for awhile, then formed Crowded House. They always intended to record something as a duo, but their first sessions evolved into the third Crowded House album, Woodface. Some tracks from those sessions formed the basis of Finn, released in 1993, over 15 years after Neil joined Split Enz.

The opening track, Only Talking Sense, launches the collaboration in fine form. A set of disjointed images and vignettes, it has an eerie childhood memory flavor that works well for the sibling pairing. The lyrics dissect various forms of intimate power, concluding that clear thought sometimes requires dire circumstance. The brothers are in fine voice over a nice, lo-fi backdrop that lets their words take center stage.

Enjoy this great song today.

Album of the Week, December 6: True Colours by Split Enz

SplitEnzTrueColoursCollege chums Tim Finn and Phil Judd formed the Split Ends at Auckland University with a collection of art school acquaintances. The group developed an all acoustic sound with complex, neo-classical structures; Finn and Judd wrote most of the songs. Lineup changes almost folded the group, but they decided to recruit new members and go electric. They purchased a Mellotron and convinced talented keyboard player Eddie Rayner to join. The group moved to Australia, adopting the NZ that represented their homeland as part of their new name. Quirky and talented, Split Enz released Mental Notes, then re-recorded it in London as Second Thoughts. Judd and co-founder Mike Chunn quit the band, leaving Finn and Rayner with percussionists Malcolm Green and Noel Crombie. Tim convinced his younger brother, Neil, to join the band on guitar and vocals, and bassist Nigel Griggs rounded out the classic lineup. After two more critically acclaimed albums, the band had refined a prog-pop sound. As Neil Finn came into his own, the group recorded their make-or-break fifth album, the magnificent True Colours.

Title True Colours
Act Split Enz
Label Chrysalis Release Date June 25, 1980
Producer David Tickle
U.S. Chart  #40 U.K. Chart  #42
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. I Got You [#53]
  2. Shark Attack
  3. What’s the Matter With You?
  4. Double Happy
  5. I Wouldn’t Dream of It
  6. I Hope I Never
  7. Nobody Takes Me Seriously
  8. Missing Person
  9. Poor Boy
  10. How Can I Resist Her
  11. The Choral Sea

Neil Finn’s first major composition — destined to be the Enz’ first Australian #1 single — opens the album on a powerful note. He wrote I Got You while playing a traveling game with his brother, each tossing the other words or phrases to use as the basis of a song. He intended to rewrite the “corny” chorus, but it worked so well at the first session that he left it intact. A classic slice of edgy pop with a view of romance that would become a Neil Finn staple, it’s one of the finest songs to come from his pen and the band’s catalog.

Tim’s Shark Attack comes next, an urgent burst of music with an appropriately desperate vocal. It sounds like the elder Finn is channeling all the frustrations of the band’s early years into one magnificent blast. Neil shows off his edgier side with What’s the Matter With You? a baffled rebuke of a fickle friend. Rayner shows off his inventive chops on the instrumental Double Happy, a fun bit of music that would be filler in less capable hands. Instead, it forms a charming bridge between the post-glam Enz and their emergence as a refined pop powerhouse.

That same energy bubbles beneath Tim’s I Wouldn’t Dream of It, a fun declaration of dedication. It features more magical keyboard work and a steadily intensifying vocal  that shows Tim’s skills. Underscoring that point, he provides the aching ballad I Hope I Never with a soaring falsetto over a sorrowful piano figure. Pulling back right at the edge of overwrought, it’s a magnificent example of a band in control of their material.

Tim’s Nobody Takes Me Seriously is a pleasant bit of poor-little-me with a new wave energy that showcases the talents of the rhythm section. Neil explores sadder territory in a similar vein in his pop downer Missing Person. It’s a nice pair that show off the brothers’ competing talents.

Tim turns in his finest moment with Poor Boy, a love song with a twist. Over shimmering pop groove, he laments his infatuation with a lover so far away they will never meet. It’s perfectly constructed, an ethereal gem of a song. How Can I Resist Her? is cut from similar cloth to I Got You, a celebration of romance. Things wrap up with another instrumental, a strange pulsing number called The Choral Sea put together by the whole band. It’s an interesting coda, showing off the  tight unit the band had become.

True Colours made Split Enz into Antipodean superstars. Showing off their musical chops, diverse sounds, and refined pop mastery, the album brought the band back from the brink of breakup. It heralded a string of wonderful albums that came close to the same magic. Lineup changes and Tim’s departure for a solo career kept them from achieving the same level of consistency, but the energy found on this disc launched an enviable run of great pop music.

FURTHER LISTENING: Of the band’s earlier albums, the strongest is Dizrythmia, Neil’s first with the group. It refines the glam inclinations and offers some great songs. The three discs that follow True Colours are all decent. Waiata (also known as Coroboree) is the best, suffering only by comparison its predecessor. Time and Tide has strong highs but bogs down in places; Conflicting Emotions features some of Neil’s strongest work but definitely suffers from Tim’s impending departure.

His solo career includes a number of fine albums, the finest of which is the elegant Big Canoe. Neil went on to international success in Crowded House and on his own. Two solid compilations capture the Enz nicely. For casual fans most interested in the later material History Never Repeats is a flawless collection. The two disc Spellbound provides a more comprehensive overview.

Song of the Day, December 3: Fall At Your Feet by Crowded House

CrowdedFeetToday’s song is a standout from a brief family reunion. As Split Enz began to dissolve, Neil and Tim Finn went their separate musical ways. Tim launched a solo career, and Neil found success in Crowded House. They missed working together, however, and a planned side project evolved into the new band’s third album, Woodface.

The pair wrote most of the tracks together, a nice fusing of their old partnership and their maturing styles. The standout track, however, is one of Neil’s solo efforts. Fall At Your Feet is a beautiful ballad, an honest look at the challenges of love and need. Beautifully rendered and sung with just the right restraint, it’s a standout in the extended Finn catalog.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, August 18: Nothing Wrong With You by Finn Brothers

FinnEveryoneNothingUnlike many famous musical sibling pairs — the Everlys, Davies, and Gallaghers spring to mind — Tim and Neil Finn have always had a strong, positive relationship. Perhaps it helps that they have largely pursued separate musical paths since the demise of Split Enz. When they record together, however, there is a special magic. So far they have treated us to only two albums as a duo: 1993’s Finn and 2004’s Everyone Is Here. The second release appeared after significant solo work by each brother; it also followed the death of their mother, Mary.

The disc is a delightful set, capturing the best melodic elements of each Finn and weaving them together. It celebrates family and relationships in direct lyrics, conjuring authentic emotion. The highlight of the album is Nothing Wrong With You. It’s a complete collaboration, written and performed by both brothers. It’s a testament to personal strength, offering the kinds of reassurance that only those closest to you can supply. Anthemic but intimate, it has a solid musical backing; the Finns sing a tight, familial harmony, lending strength to the song’s theme. It’s an amazing performance and a highlight of each brother’s long career.

Enjoy this fraternal celebration today.

Song of the Day, May 12: I Got You by Split Enz

Split-Enz-I-Got-YouToday’s song is I Got You by Split Enz. The Australian band featured two New Zealand natives as its vocalists, brothers Tim and Neil Finn. Neil joined his older sibling for the Enz’ third album as the membership went through a series of changes. By the time the band recorded their landmark fifth disc, True Colours, their arty trappings had been absorbed into an intricate pop sensibility. Neil came into his own on the album as well, contributing strong tracks that fit perfectly beside Tim’s compositions.

A standout all the way around is Neil’s charming I Got You. It’s an edgy love song, celebrating romance while recognizing that keeping it alive takes real work from both parties. The younger Finn turns in a great vocal, giving the song just the right balance of hope and anxiety; the band settle into a tight new wave groove, taking everything they’ve developed over the years and distilling it into something new and compelling.

I Got You was a smash, topping the Australian and New Zealand charts and giving the band it’s only US Hot 100 hit. It also set the tone for the Enz’ most successful period and hinted at the bittersweet pop territory Neil would explore later with Crowded House.

Enjoy this magnificent pop moment today.

Song of the Day, September 8: Message to My Girl by Split Enz

EnzConflictGirlToday’s song is Message To My Girl. Singer Neil Finn wrote it for Split Enz’ next-to-last album, the aptly titled Conflicting Emotions. Band co-founder (and Neil’s older brother) Tim Finn was launching a successful solo career and devoting less time and energy to the group. Neil’s skill and confidence had been growing during his time with the band, and he became the principle writer for this disc. The highlight, and Split Enz’ last big hit, is Message to My Girl.

A powerful song of romantic uncertainty and growing commitment, it’s an epic pop masterpiece. Working from a position of doubt and fear to a bold declaration of dedication, Finn builds the lyrical and musical energy beautifully. The band are in fine form, with a lovely keyboard line anchoring the song. Neil’s vocal is stronger than ever, presaging the great work he would later do in Crowded House.

Enjoy this pop gem today.

Song of the Day, March 21: Faster Than Light by Neil Finn

FinnWhistlingFasterToday’s song is Faster Than Light by Neil Finn. In 1998, Finn had spent over half of his 40 years working in bands, notably Split Enz (with brother Tim) and Crowded House. He finally set out to make a solo record after the latter group’s demise. Blending his unerring sense of melody, the alt-pop chops he developed with Crowded House, and the Split Enz sense of fun and experimentation, he crafted a solid “debut” with Try Whistling This.

This is the finest track on that album, a beautiful stream of consciousness look at interlocking lives. It reflects the disjointed sense of time that comes from frequent travel (a regular challenge for a musician from New Zealand), the ways that love forms connections, and the intersections of human life and larger natural rhythms. Somehow both complicated and deliciously simple, it’s a lovely song anchored by one of Finn’s finest vocals.

In time you’ll see that some things
travel faster than light
In time you’ll recognise
that love is larger than life

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, July 19: Can’t Carry On by Crowded House

CHouseCarryOnToday’s song is Can’t Carry On by Crowded House. After disbanding Split Enz, Neil Finn moved to California and built a new band. Originally called the Mullanes, it grew into Crowded House. Their first album is a strong statement of well-crafted pop that was a surprising commercial success. The band have a great, cohesive sound, and Finn’s lyrics and vocals have a new power that was not fully realized in the Enz.

Can’t Carry On is a classic Finn song, looking at the dark side of personal relationships and the ways that even intimate couples can be strangers to one another. Oddly, although it was included on the Australia and New Zealand releases of the album, it was replaced by another track (a new version of the Split Enz song I Walk Away) elsewhere. Reisssues include both songs, ensuring that one of the disc’s highlights is regularly available.

Can’t carry on this way (just go to sleep)
Before it gets too late (just go to sleep)
Doing damage to my brain
Well here we go again

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, April 9: Fingers of Love by Crowded House

Crowded-House-Fingers-Of-LoveToday’s song is Fingers of Love by Crowded House. Band leader Neil Finn’s brother Tim joined the group for their most experimental album, Woodface. After his departure, Crowded House regrouped and took some time to record their fourth album, the dark Together Alone. Like its predecessor, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but when it works it works really well.

The finest track is Fingers of Love. Lyrically, it’s classic Neil Finn, with sentence fragments and snippets of imagery blending together to create a whole far greater than its parts. A song of yearning, it features a particularly strong vocal by Finn as he conveys the power of the passion that drives his words. It also features a tasty guitar figure which anchors the lyrics perfectly.

Can you imagine this
An itch to sensitive to scratch
The light that falls through the cracks
An insect to delicate to catch
I hear the endless murmur
Every blade of grass that shivers in the breeze
And the sound that comes to carry me
Across the land and over the sea

And I can’t look up — Fingers of love move down
And I can’t look back — Fingers of love move down

Enjoy this hypnotic song today.

Album of the Week, December 16: Temple of Low Men by Crowded House

Singer and songwriter Neil Finn had some unexpected success on his hands. For the better part of a decade he had enjoyed reasonable success in Australia and New Zealand as part of Split Enz. His brother, Tim, co-founded the band with Phil Judd and asked Neil to join in 1977 when Judd departed. Over the course of six albums, Neil helped reshape the band’s sound, as he and Tim pursued a more pop-oriented new wave sound than the experimental textures of the previous releases. When Tim departed for a solo career, Neil kept the Enz together for one more disc and called it a day. He moved to the U.S. with bandmate Paul Hester. They worked with bassist Nick Seymore and guitarist Craig Hooper as the Mullanes, pursuing a much more traditional pop sound. Hooper left the band and new label Capitol suggested a change of name. As a result, their first release was the eponymous Crowded House. It achieved unprecedented success for Neil and his bandmates, going multi-platinum and spawning two major international hits including the U.S. #2 Don’t Dream It’s Over.

Title Temple of Low Men
Act Crowded House
Label Capitol Release Date July 1988
Producer Mitchell Froom
U.S. Chart  40 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[US Hot 100]
  1. I Feel Possessed
  2. Kill Eye
  3. Into Temptation
  4. Mansion In the Slums
  5. When You Come
  6. Never Be the Same
  7. Love This Life
  8. Sister Madly
  9. In the Lowlands
  10. Better Be Home Soon [#42]

For their second album, Finn sharpened his songwriting skills even further. This is his strongest collection of songs, with all 10 blending a strong pop sensibility with a dark, mature approach to the lyrics. Nearly 25 years on,  it remains the highlight of Neil Finn’s stellar career.

The album kicks off with the haunting love song I Feel Possessed. It’s sound is dark and quiet, but the overall message is an optimistic note of need and love. From there the band moves into the harrowing Kill Eye, a dark meditation on killers, obsession, and the more sinister threads of humanity that tie us together. Musically jarring, it sets up the journey to follow.

Next up is another quiet song, the aching Into Temptation. A surprisingly frank look at infidelity and the cost of being overtaken by emotion, it’s one of Finn’s strongest lyrics. The disc takes another sharp turn with Mansion In the Slums, a look at money culture and the perils of living beyond one’s means. It’s especially poignant given the band’s recent success and the challenges faced with following up their massive debut. Finn’s nearly stuttered vocal shows confusion, want, and anger in equal measure with “what I mean is, would you mind if I had it all?” Side one of the original album ends with another song about romance, the potent When You Come. It’s a lyrical explosion of passion, using multiple images from nature to describe a couple whose physical and emotional connection are immensely powerful.

In some ways, Never Be the Same is a follow up to Don’t Dream It’s Over, turned on its head. It needn’t be over, Finn suggests, if we could just fundamentally change who we are in this relationship. It’s a powerful acknowledgment of something coming to an end with a painful reluctance to see the good go along with the bad. Finn exorcises this darkness with Love This Life. Hardly as optimistic as the title suggests, it is more of a mantra to find a way to move on after a powerful loss.

Sister Madly is another meditation on fame, describing the excesses and confusion that can accompany it. The band skewer pop consumer culture neatly, while giving a nod to their occasional complicity. Richard Thompson, also working with producer Mitchell Froom at the time, stops by to lend a tasty guitar solo. In the Lowlands is a nice treatment of all the politics of the album, personal and public. It’s a journey to find a better place, with some cleansing suffering on the way. The album ends with its lone U.S. single, Better Be Home Soon. A testament to personal strength, it offers a hope for redemption through love but is willing to stand on its own two feet. It’s one of the finest songs Neil Finn has written and one of his strongest vocal performances on disc.

The less cheery material led to weaker promotion and basically ended the band’s U.S. success. Tim Finn joined for one album, the sporadically interesting but internationally massive seller Woodface. With additional members popping in and out, Crowded House carried on for one more album before dissolving. Neil Finn has recorded a number of solo albums and a couple of discs with Tim as the Finn Brothers. Crowded House reformed five years ago (minus Hester, who had committed suicide in 2005). Neil also continues with a variety of side projects.

FURTHER LISTENING: Crowded House is a rare album that earns its pop success by having truly strong songs. It hints at the glory to come on Temple of Low Men and is arguably an easier listen. The first Finn Brothers album is somewhat uneven but has delightful contributions from both brothers; the strongest of Neil’s solo albums is 1998’s Try Whistling This, a great set of songs that would have worked with Crowded House but don’t need them to succeed. For fans interested in the Split Enz days, that band’s strongest offering is True Colors, on which Neil truly comes into his own as a writer, matching Tim’s contributions nicely.

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