"I Could Easily Become Too Tasteful In My Old Age"
February 8, 2014 11:20 PM   Subscribe

"Neil Finn’s one of the great underappreciated treasures — a songwriter with a four-decade catalog so deep and evocative it stands up against most anyone in the rock era."

On the eve of the release of his latest solo album, Dizzy Heights, Salon talks with Neil Finn about Crowded House, Split Enz, and growing up in a musical family.

Bonus: Checkout Neil's Twitter feed - if you add him, he'll add you back.
posted by dotgirl (32 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

For my money, Neil Finn has the greatest sense of melody of any songwriter of his generation. He's also a hell of an underrated guitar player. Oh, and possibly second only to Tom Waits for his ability to tell an amazing story in concert. In short: a god among men.
posted by scody at 11:33 PM on February 8 [7 favorites]

So I'll sing it to the world this simple message to my girl.

And that opening riff from Don't Dream It's Over always makes my ears perk up.

I can't believe we're coming up on nine years without Hester.
posted by Talez at 11:58 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

"Neil Finn’s one of the great underappreciated treasures
Says who? I mean, extra-ordinary claims and all that.

If everyone doesn't love his music, they at least respect it.
posted by Mezentian at 1:41 AM on February 9

For anyone interested in Split Enz, Radio New Zealand made a really great documentary some years back called Enzology full of candid interviews and information. I've gone back and listened to it several times over the years.
posted by shelleycat at 2:31 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]

The man who wrote 'Don't Dream It's Over' is not unappreciated by me or anyone within hearing distance.
posted by tommasz at 5:07 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I can't believe we're coming up on nine years without Hester.

That still hurts.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:19 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

My wife and I are gigantic fans of Neil and Crowded House. We've got tickets to his show at The Lincoln Theater in DC in April. This CD arrives at our house on Monday. I'm hoping it's as incredible as the Salon interview makes it out to be.

I posted about Crowded House a while back
posted by legweak at 6:20 AM on February 9

Mezentian: "If everyone doesn't love his music, they at least respect it."

I've been a fan since Split Enz but I doubt that too many Americans have ever heard anything other than "Don't Dream" and maybe "I got you" if they're as old as I am.
posted by octothorpe at 7:22 AM on February 9

my theory about why Crowded House wasn't more widely appreciated has to do with their preference for minor chords. Minor chords evoke sadness, despair and thoughts of mortality - feelings people actively try to avoid. What's funny about Crowded House and Split Enz is that even though the music can bring me to great depths I very often come out of it more hopeful and with a greater appreciation for this tenuous and complicated gift we've been given. Neil Finn's music, more than any other artist has shown me that exploring the fallible side of human existence can actually make you love it more.
posted by any major dude at 8:00 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]

For anyone interested in Split Enz, Radio New Zealand made a really great documentary some years back called Enzology full of candid interviews and information. I've gone back and listened to it several times over the years.

We had a good discussion about it a few years ago.
posted by rory at 8:42 AM on February 9

NEIL! My eternal claim to fame is that I once sang Weather With You with him (well, I harmonised; he did the singing & guitar-playing). Afterwards we could have had a lovely chat but I was so paralysed with OMG!NEILFINN! that I turned to stare intently at a concrete column.

His music is the soundtrack to my life, simple as that.
posted by kariebookish at 9:32 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

This CD arrives at our house on Monday. I'm hoping it's as incredible as the Salon interview makes it out to be.

I saw him at Largo in L.A. last summer and he previewed (preplayed?) a lot of the new material -- it was great, so have been waiting on pins and needles for the CD to come out since.
posted by scody at 9:57 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

octothorpe: "I've been a fan since Split Enz but I doubt that too many Americans have ever heard anything other than "Don't Dream" and maybe "I got you" if they're as old as I am."

Those who watched during the very early days of MTV doubtless remember "Six Months In a Leaky Boat". I guess they only had a handful of options back then, but I swear they played that thing ten times a day.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 10:10 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Famously, Six Months was banned in the UK during the Falklands War. One of the many reasons Split Enz never made the impact they should have done in the British Isles.

Having said that, I recently asked "Which new wave band morphed into crowd-pleasing Crowded House" in a pub quiz and 14 our of 15 teams knew. I was mightily pleased.
posted by kariebookish at 10:25 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

Oh, and for the folks wondering how or where Neil Finn is underappreciated -- yeah, in the U.S., Crowded House was largely (and unjustly) a one-hit wonder, and an awareness of Split Enz is mostly limited to alternative music fans (or early MTV viewers) of a certain age.

my theory about why Crowded House wasn't more widely appreciated has to do with their preference for minor chords.

I think you're on to something. Temple of Low Men, in particular, is pretty dark, and kind of a record company's nightmare follow-up to the first album, which had sold so well (though, ironically enough, on the basis of its gorgeously melancholy hit). I also think CH also seemed out of sync with where music was going in America in the late '80s/early '90s, with no real place among either alternative music or mainstream pop where they quite fit.

Of course, the further irony of CH's minor chord melancholia being a potential commercial detriment is that it can be seen as flowing directly from the massive Beatles influence on Neil's songwriting. The chord progression and lyrics of Things We Said Today has often struck me as a kind of proto-Crowded House tune: the tension between major and minor chords, plus the lyrics that seem optimistic on their face but which actually carry a note of anticipatory loss or sadness. (I actually have a whole theory about "Things We Said Today" being the first clue of the transformation from Cuddly Beatles into Holy Shit Mindblowing Beatles, because when you really listen to it, it's actually a very sophisticated, challenging song that evokes a mood unlike anything they'd ever actually done up to that point.)
posted by scody at 10:30 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

There's that old post-concert question you'd exchange with other people lingering in the venue: "So, which albums do you prefer? The self-titled one & Woodface OR Temple of Low Men & Together Alone". The litmus test of whether or not you should go for post-gig pints with them.

I'm a Temple/Together Alone gal myself. Not that the other albums are all sweetness and light (Hole in the River?! Whispers and Moans?!) but there is something so appealing whenever Neil Finn really digs into darkness, sadness, and cynicism.
posted by kariebookish at 10:38 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

I've always been interested in Neil Finn because I've always enjoyed Crowded House and Split Enz, but have never had time to investigate his music deeply. I've been thinking this album would be a good jumping-in point, so thanks for reminding me to check it out when it comes out.
posted by immlass at 10:58 AM on February 9

Neil on NPR.
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I first saw Split Enz doing "One Step Ahead" on American Bandstand in 1981. I couldn't find that performance, but here's Dick Clark interviewing them on that show, and here's them doing "One Step Ahead" on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show (with stranger outfits and performance than on American Bandstand).

Split Enz' last album, See Ya 'Round is kind of a proto-Crowded House record. Tim had already left the band, and Paul Hester plays drums. They recorded "I Walk Away," which they redid on the first Crowded House album.

Only the first half of See Ya 'Round is any good; "Since [Neil Finn] only had an EP's worth of material ready, the record was filled out by lightweight, experimental contributions from each of the other band members."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:38 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I actually prefer the Enz version of "I Walk Away" but then again I've had issues with lot of Mitchell Froom's work with Crowded House. I like the Finns when they are looser and less polished - as a result I'm a huge fan of the first Finn brothers album which was basically knocked out over a couple of weeks with a healthy amount of weed at hand (I suspect based entirely upon the lyrics). I give you: Suffer Never - live it usually becomes a wondrous beast with a lot of distortion and sonic experimentation.

Anyone liking Crowded House and Neil Finn might also want to check out Dave Dobbyn's albums Twist and (my favourite) The Islander. Twist is produced by Neil and he also guests on a few tracks on The Islander. Both albums hit that sweet Antipodean Beatles/psychedelic pop-rock spot.
posted by kariebookish at 3:45 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

This post inspired me to put Split Enz on random for dinner music tonight. Imagine my joy when my 6 year old daughter asked for 'I Got You' to be added to her 'special mix'. F**k You, One Direction!

I was lucky enough to see one of the first Crowded House concerts in Sydney at The Tivoli in Feb of 1987. It was the only concert I've ever been to where I truly believed that not cheering for the band wouldn't bring them back for a encore. And then they came back, but they'd run out of songs so they did the 'Banana Boat Song' from Harry Belafonte and 'Anarchy in the UK' from the Sex Pistols.

Easily in the top five concerts I've ever seen. Split Enz also in the top ten.
posted by drinkmaildave at 6:14 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]

i saw the reorganized CH at the somerville theatre five or six years ago. a few hundred people there -- an older crowd. it felt weird to see them afterward i watched footage of their 'farewell to the world' concert at the sydney opera house, allegedly attended by a quarter million human fucking beings.

they were -- are -- a powerful live band, and their leader is one of the all-time great singer-songwriters. that voice is a great gift. and it'd be enough to write a single perfect song in a lifetime, but neil's written and sung a bucketful.
posted by waxbanks at 6:15 PM on February 9

Neil Finn falls into that strange category of "widely appreciated under-appreciated" in which every piece has to start by making that point (see also: Richard Thompson). One of the things that runs through his songwriting is the tension between domesticity and something else entirely -- most CH/Finn fans keep a running total of references to kitchens -- which fits with scody's point about the Beatles influence. Finn's songs are often placed on the cosy McCartney side of the line, and you can see why the pub quiz talked about 'crowd pleasing', but beyond the melodies that fit together just-so, there's always that pivot between familiarity and wonder, comfort and yearning.

(When I saw him play in Oxford in the late 90s, most of Radiohead were a few rows ahead of me in the audience.)

I've had issues with lot of Mitchell Froom's work with Crowded House

Not the only one, and not the only artists whose back-catalogues feel like they need de-Frooming, though Froom was probably the reason why Thompson ended up doing that solo on 'Sister Madly'.

His kids are pretty talented, too: helps when you've been on tour since your early teens.
posted by holgate at 6:50 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Will always love the Enz and the Finn brothers.

Though I appreciated the sheer pop artistry of Crowded House, their stuff doesn't occupy as big a place in my heart, I guess maybe because I was veering into much more loud and angry stuff in later years, when they were hitting their heyday. Split Enz, though: they were a huge musical presence in my early teens, and taught me a lesson about how music could be fun and funny as well as sad or wistful, sometimes even at the same time.

Now I've got 'Hard Act To Follow' running through my head.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:34 AM on February 10

I once saw the Finns (and kids) at the airport.
They lined up like everyone else, other than they had to go to over-sized baggage.

I love that.

I like Crowded House like I like INXS (good music, not my thing at the time), but Split Enz is awesomely good.
I can't explain why (I grew up with it) but the songs are amazing.
posted by Mezentian at 5:32 AM on February 10

I love Neil Finn. But he makes me scared, sometimes. My husband and I were listening to "Won't Give In" and I said, you know, if you keep writing songs trying to reassure us that you won't kill yourself, that is NOT REASSURING.

Anyways, so psyched. And so bummed that the concert dates seem to skip flyover country again. Sigh.
posted by Malla at 7:25 AM on February 10

I'm a Tim Finn fan, myself. This album is beautiful.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:58 AM on February 10

A-list studio help, too. That's more or less Peter Gabriel's studio band on that Tim Finn album. I like Neil's voice a bit more, but they're both fantastic writers.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:17 AM on February 10

Thanks for all the Finn links, everyone. They are my favorites, no matter what they are doing and who they are doing it with. Will be looking all these things up soon and rekindling my love affair with their music. And probably seeing if I can rustle up a copy of The Coca-Cola Kid to boot.
posted by emcat8 at 10:00 PM on February 10

I'll just leave this here: a two-and-a-half-hour set from the Sydney Opera House last year when Neil toured with Paul Kelly.
posted by holgate at 11:26 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Nobody here seems to have commented on the album itself yet: it sounds a bit low-key at first, but after a couple of days' listening I'm enjoying it - more so than Pajama Club or Intriguer. Leaning more towards The Guardian's take than PopMatters' and Drowned in Sound's.
posted by rory at 2:22 AM on February 11

I just got the album last night and was listening to it on the drive to work. As rory says, it's low-key, but I find it still engaging -- an interesting mixture of atmospherics and rhythm. I like it better than Pajama Club, too, but it also feels like it definitely comes out of that same vibe he has when he works with Sharon (though "Recluse" sounds like it could be a latter-day Crowded House or Finn Brothers tune). As one of the reviews says, it's a bit of a left turn from his usual direction in songwriting and instrumentation, but that's fine with me.

For anyone reading who hasn't followed his post-CH (or even post-Enz!) career much, though, I don't know if this is going to be the best introduction to his body of work since then. I think either of the Finn Brothers records (Finn, which is a lo-fi masterpiece, and Everyone Is Here) and/or either of his first two solo records (Try Whistling This and One Nil) might be a more representative place to start.
posted by scody at 10:54 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

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