Neil Finn is back on the road in April with his beloved band, Crowded House, finally able to play shows in Europe and Australia in support of the The dreamers are waiting album of 2021. This is ahead of playing a resurgent Glastonbury Festival in June, for the first time since 2008. As Crowded House’s chief songwriter, he is therefore ready to release new self-penned songs (“Whatever You Want”, “To the Island”) to audiences beyond his native New Zealand. He is also equipped with a new track written with his brother Tim (“Too Good For This World”) and another (“Playing With Fire”) which he composed with current band members Nick Seymour, Liam Finn, Elroy Finn and Mitchell Froom. Crowded House’s revered back catalog (“Fall At Your Feet”, “Distant Sun”, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”), plus a track (“I Got You”) he wrote as a member of his former band, Split Enz.
In other words, it’s the perfect time to reassess the work of a music maker who is often talked about in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney, and guitarist and Radiohead friend Ed O’Brien. once described as “the most prolific writer of great songs”. ”. This, after all, is a supreme melodist and lyricist who has won countless New Zealand Music Awards since rising to prominence in the late 1970s. He also won the Q Classic Songwriter award in 2010, as well as being named OBE, along with Tim, for “services to New Zealand music” in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List in 1993. Meanwhile, he is invariably called a “songwriter of songwriters”, and his compositions are almost always considered “finely crafted” or “well crafted”, whether published as Crowded House, or Split Enz, Neil Finn, Pajama Club, Neil and Liam Finn, the Finn Brothers, or Neil Finn and Friends.
Yet Neil, however, is increasingly placed in the category of “underrated songwriters”, alongside Elliott Smith and Townes Van Zandt. It may have something to do with his lack of commercial success in the United States, or it may have to do with his being grossly omitted from Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. . Anyway, here’s a countdown of ten good reasons why, as a writer and co-author, he deserves top ratings.
10. “Playing with Fire” (Crowded House, 2021)
Yes, this Neil Finn collab from Crowded House’s latest album totally deserves to be among the best of them all. It’s blessed with the kind of edgy pop exuberance and spiky guitar sound not heard since 1995-era Blur, making it an absolute highlight of Crowded House’s sporadic second phase that began in 2006 ( after the band’s initial breakup in 1996). There are horns, a choir and a clearly shut-in band (with Neil’s two sons) having a great time, without a whiff of the melancholy usually associated with Crowded House. Instead, there’s plenty to suggest a man is losing his mind during a global pandemic, with Neil anxiously recounting, “The president’s got it all / And my brain’s getting closer to the edge.” It’s a sense of madness that also permeates the accompanying video, featuring band members in blazing white costumes, dancers, explosions and what appears to be a Lycra-wearing cycling team for a horn section. .
9. “Golden Child” (Pajama Club, 2011)
In a less band-centric style, Neil penned ‘Golden Child’ for a one-off album he made mostly with his wife Sharon in 2011, under the name Pajama Club. He was all about writing experimental songs during this era, often adding words to his wife’s inventive bass lines and semi-electronic grooves, instead of composing melodies around her lyrics. Here, he sings wistfully about his two sons flying through the nest, to a delicately finger-picked melody that’s made all the more poignant by Sharon’s haunting backing vocals and harmonies. It’s a beautiful song in a looser, folkier, more intimate, lo-fi way than anything he’s ever done, with his own unrefined drumming. In fact, not finely crafted at all. But in the right way.
8. “I Won’t Back Down” (The Finn Brothers, 2004)
It’s always a thrill when Neil and Tim, originally from the clown-dressed new wave band Split Enz, come together for some brotherly songwriting action and immaculate brotherly harmony. It’s something they happily did on the classic Crowded House album. wooden facade in 1991, with such important results as “It’s Only Natural” and “Weather With You”. It’s also something they did, as Finn Brothers, in 2004 everyone is here LP, on which we find the emotional and surging “Won’t Give In”. It’s a song that’s about as finely crafted as it gets, in fact, with its loud guitar riff, polished production, dramatic “come-on-now” middle eight, and deeply moving – almost existential – lyrics. about kinship and connectedness and, heck, mortality and all. Finns hit you with words like “What does it mean when you belong to someone?” When you were born with a name? When are you continuing? And they hit very, very hard.
7. “Fingers of Love” (Crowded House, 1993)
Neil is clearly a great collaborator when it comes to songwriting, but he can also create the merchandise entirely on his own if he needs to. “Fingers of Love” is a good example of this, being a Crowded House number from the brilliant together alone 1993 album, which does not feature Tim at all. He delivers all that is “finely crafted” (of course he does!) and sings beautifully of being sensually cleansed and finding solace in sunshine, music and massage. But the essence of the song is the atmosphere. Neil has a big part of the credit to multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart, whom he brought into the band for this LP, and who provides those great guitar hits that reverberate throughout the song. He also owes a lot to co-producer Youth, who brings a wonderfully spacious, trance-like sound to the track that takes the listener into another plane. “The chime of a perfect chord”, indeed!
6. “She’ll Get Her Way” (Neil Finn, 1998)
Neil sought totally different atmospheres and sound textures for his first solo album, 1998 To try whistle that, co-opting a range of esteemed producers and virtuoso musicians, particularly on the drumming side. This has resulted in new adventures in percussion, as well as a range of distinctive orchestral flourishes and electronic effects, to do justice to a hugely confident songwriter who is entering more twisted and gothic territory than he does. did it with Crowded House. Much of that is evident on the standout track “She Will Have Her Way,” with former Split Enzer Michael Barker laying on big John Bonham-style beats, and Bjork and Madonna producer Marius de Vries revving up the guitars. chimes and powerful auto-harmonies. It’s a ballad, sure, but a kind of love that’s seemingly harmful, addictive, and life-sapping, leaving the narrator to exclaim, “I’m heavy and my spirit is dead.” It’s disturbing in its subject matter but, despite that, exceptionally Beatlesque. Plus, it comes with a wonderfully entertaining video that borrows from the 1950s B-movie. Attack of the 50ft Woman.