Pajama Club is the sound of Neil Finn searching for something more unpredictable. The erstwhile Crowded House frontman follows up one of his day-job band’s most disappointingly dull records (2010’s Intriguer) with a side project featuring his wife Sharon along with Sean Donnelly and Alana Skyring. Sonic experimentation is the name of the game here, bringing to mind more than anything the first Finn Brothers’ album with older brother and former Split Enz/Crowded House bandmate Tim. Unfortunately, this record seldom reaches those heights or plays to Neil’s strengths as both a melodic songwriter and singer.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t a few high points here and there. Opener “Tell Me What You Want” marries Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll” to a buzzy, robotic T Rex groove. Sharon Finn’s vocals add color to the chorus. She and husband Neil sound great together on “From a Friend to a Friend,” which despite an underdeveloped melody proves to be one of the record’s strongest tracks with lots of cool guitar effects to recommend it. “Golden Child” has some of the untethered, chilly spookiness of late period Radiohead. The swirling and whooshing psychedelia of “Dead Leg” make it interesting despite its shortcomings, which include willfully obtuse lyrics. “And you got no limit on your telephone plan / Tell all your friends / You’ve got a dead leg,” Neil sings.
Some songs that get off to promising starts seem to run out of ideas before they run out of running time. “TNT for Two,” one of the few tracks here with a developed melody and a fairly straightforward Neil vocal, could almost be a Crowded House cast off. But it seems half-finished. The chorus of “Diamonds in Her Eyes” borrows the distorted guitar groove of The Beatles’ “Revolution” but doesn’t have much else of note to recommend it.
Other experiments here fail even more spectacularly. While blessed with a bit more melodic variety than much of the record, “Daylight’ sounds like a contraption of a song with its pieces grafted together Frankenstein’s monster style. Finn sings in a weird, faux soul-man falsetto amidst all the squiggly guitars and inorganic groove. The sample-fest “The Game We Love to Play” similarly is another manufactured experiment in search of a song.
Sharon takes the lead for parts of “Go Kart” and proves herself an able front woman with personality to spare. Unfortunately Neil’s distorted vocals enter later to ruin the feel of the song and take it in a different, weirder direction.
While Pajama Club is notable for some interesting stylistic detours and for introducing Sharon Finn’s vocal stylings to a wider audience, I’m afraid it will ultimately prove to be little more than a footnote in Neil Finn’s career. With this presumably out of his system, I think it’s time for him to go back to the drawing board and come up with some decent, hummable melodies. Next time, he should leave the sonic experimentation to others. This pajama club is too much of a snoozer.
Pajama Club: www.pajamaclubmusic.com