Feeding The Gods
I’ve always believed that Tim Finn got a raw deal. First, his younger brother Neil joins Tim’s band Split Enz, the seminal New Zealand ’70s art rock combo turned ’80s new wave popsters. The band then proceeds to have their first American hit with Neil’s “I Got You.” Then in the mid-’80s, Tim’s stop and start solo career was overshadowed by Neil’s success leading Crowded House. In 1991, Tim was “reduced” to joining little brother’s band for what became their penultimate and finest record, Woodface.
But throughout a career spanning nearly thirty years, the elder Finn in a low profile way has proven himself nearly the equal of Neil as both a tunesmith and a singer. On last year’s Say it is So, he hooked up in Nashville with producer/guitarist Jay Joyce (Patti Griffin, John Hiatt) and alt-country veterans like Wilco drummer Ken Coomer and the luminous Julie Miller. The result was an engaging, low-key, mostly mid-tempo gem that saw Finn exploring his lower vocal range.
The follow-up, also produced by Joyce, has a more souped-up sound. The songs are almost all relentlessly up-beat sounding, although often with a dark lyrical bent or a touch of that wicked sense of humor. “The pretty dress I bought you I wear myself/It wipes away the memory of someone else,” Finn sings amidst the big loud guitars and drums of “What You’ve Done.”
The opening “Songline” has more melody than brother Neil has produced since the Crowded House days. “Out across the open spaces/Where the music sets you free/Help me spread the message/That’s inside of you and me/We come from a long line/Part of a songline,” he sings, evoking his rich musical past as well as the music that influenced him.
Most importantly, that voice is back. On tracks like “Subway Dreaming” and “What You’ve Done,” Finn’s distinctive tenor reaches for the treetops again. And on a cover of former Enz-mate Phil Judd’s “Incognito In California,” his tremulous vocal even sounds like Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander.
Finn’s unerring sense of melody rarely deserts him and he sounds positively rejuvenated on the heavy power jangle of “Say it is So” and the ballad “Sawdust And Splinters.” Jane Siberry-soundalike Kirsten Morrelle provides backing vocals on the sweet, mid-tempo “Waiting For Your Moment,” which could have fit in nicely on the last album.
Joyce surrounds Finn with a band of young New Zealand musicians and adds a lot of modern sounds to his mature pop creations. The record’s only misstep is “Party Was You,” which is both too gimmicky and too lightweight for Finn’s talent. For the most part, though, Finn appears to have found a good collaborator. And with two records in as many years, perhaps after 30 years, Finn is finally hitting his stride. Here’s hoping the “Songline” will continue for many more.