I’ve always loved the Finn album, the first collaborative pairing of Neil and Tim Finn; just the brothers (Dave Dobbyn plays bass on one song on the album, beyond that all the instrumental duties are handled by Neil and Tim).
The album was released in 1995 – I can remember being excited about its release, anticipating it, looking forward to it because it arrived in the middle of a great run from both Neil and Tim. And I was, at that point, a fan of everything they’d done, raised on Split Enz and Tim’s solo records. And Crowded House was everywhere – the great Kiwi achievers.
We’d had some sense of collaboration from the Finns with Woodface, Tim joining in to help with some of the songs and then joining Crowded House for the tour in support of that album.
That in turn renewed both the Finns – Tim went on to release one of his strongest solo albums, 1993’s Before & After. He arrived at Finn with the ALT collaboration in the can too (the album Altitude is worth having a hunt for if you haven’t heard it). Neil had created Together Alone – the best Crowded House album, song-wise, by some distance.
So each of them arrived to Finn on something of a hot-streak.
Perhaps what I like best about Finn is the understatement – they toured in support of this album and then performed sporadic shows across the years leading to another album, this time billed – with such huge expectations – as The Finn Brothers. I still like a lot of the songs from Everyone Is Here but it’s not as good as it could have been; the wrong mix was released, the album arrived on the back of Split Enz reunions and Crowded House saying farewell to the world (for a decade or so, anyway) and then following on from the Finn Brothers’ international tour there’d be more Split Enz and then a run of (mostly) lacklustre Tim Finn solo albums while Neil hid behind the Crowded House moniker and released the rather cool Pajama Club record. And then got his solo career back on track with the rather wonderful Dizzy Heights and some great live shows.
But Finn is where it is at. The emotional and experimental peak for the Finns when working together.
From Neil’s brilliant guitar playing on Suffer Never (it’s been a highlight of most sets he’s performed since, even with Crowded House and Pajama Club) through to Tim at his quirky subverted-vaudeville best with Mood Swinging Man.
I love Tim Finn’s drumming too. Actually both Finns are great drummers, but Tim has a very Paul McCartney-esque untutored-but-enthusiastic feel to his playing.
Right from the opener, Only Talking Sense, I’m drawn in. Every time. Eyes of the World feels like a far better song than Chocolate Cake (okay, so that’s not exactly hard, but it feels like it could be related; it’s the older, wiser, more successful brother).
Speaking of older, wiser, more successful brother, Tim works best in collaboration. I’ve always felt that. He’s not a great guitar player, his voice – though superb in the early Split Enz days – needs something to blend with it, needs a break. You hear Tim Finn chipping in, a great song-supporter, and it’s more satisfying than when he attempts to carry a whole album.
And much as he blazed the trail and much as he would have liked – and dang it all he keeps on trying – he’s just not the more successful of the two.
Neil of course is the better tunesmith – that’s academic. Count them up, he has the numbers. But here he needed his brother, and this collaboration went some way toward encouraging strong solo offerings from both of them, Tim’scriminally underrated Say It Is So arriving just a year after Neil’s debut solo album, Try Whistling This.
The Finn album feels lived in and loved and lovely. It’s rustic but there’s an elegance to the stark Last Day of June and a stateliness to Angels Heap; there’s another great moment that only Tim could have with Where Is My Soul – we can almost imagine him soft-shoe-shuffling to the song, somehow inside the song, as it’s happening. And there’s an effortlessness in Neil’s approach. Here he was at his song-crafting/shaping best.
Listen to the record again – if you haven’t in a while (with its back-shed-isms on Niwhai and its post-garage-rock goof-off that is Kiss the Road to Raratonga). Listen to the record for the first time if you never have – find the serenity in Paradise (Wherever You Are) and the strange sense of nostalgia that runs through Bullets in My Hairdo – it’s almost as if Crowded House decided to cover an unreleased Split Enz song for an unplugged/stripped-back format.
I’ll never tire of this album. Some days I think it’s the best thing that either of them did. But certainly it holds its appeal. And it managed to subtly, skilfully, sidestep any huge expectation. It exists – even now, still – in its own space. Informing the catalogue but out on its own and away from the rest of the Finns’ discography both together and alone.
A lot of that has to do with the name: Finn. Simply Finn. And then of course there’s a trademark arrogance in that. And I like that. It was both standing back, lurking and then saying here I am – rate this. Rate us. How very Kiwi.
The tour to support this album was very special. I flagged seeing Bjork and though she would have been great, I got to see Neil and Tim moving between instruments, just a bass player on stage to flesh out their piano and ukulele and drums and guitars, each of them jostling and juggling. There were opening sets by David Kilgour and a very young, fresh and innocent, wide-eyed and gorgeous-sounding Bic Runga. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I’m sure Bjork was really great that night but this made me proud to be a Kiwi, proud to hear this music. I felt as though the best – happiest – musical memories from my childhood were being offered up in a sometimes ramshackle, almost-roughshod way, always endearing though, often bewitching, these homespun tales.