Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb

The View Is Worth The ClimbA new solo album that put the lie to Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn’s claims that he was done with his solo career, The View Is Worth The Climb is a welcome, if slightly subdued, new chapter of that career.

A little over ten years ago, Tim Finn was railing against turning 50 by turning out throat-thrashing, experimental albums that dipped their toes into electronica and yet were still a great listen. Now staring down the barrel of 60, he’s mining his material from the almost-normal home life that eluded him for so long, and it’s translating into pleasant listening that’s solidly in middle-of-the-road rock territory rather than actively looking for barriers to break down; it’s no accident that the album’s first track is “The Everyday.”

The lead single “Going Going Gone” is an apt opening act for The View Is Worth The Climb, demonstrating the album’s acoustic-leaning sound and hopeful lyrics. The only tracks that even threaten to break the album’s mid-tempo groove are “Wild Sweet Children” and “Can’t Be Found”, and those are really only a faster flavor of mid-tempo. My two favorite tracks, “Certain Way” and “Keep Talking”, dispense a bit with the carefree tone of the rest of the album, and the latter of the two almost has a ’70s AM radio groove going on.

3 out of 4Overall, The View Is Worth The Climb is a very pleasant listen, if not necessarily one that’ll get everyone out of their seats to dance. Laid-back and relaxing, it’s a nice bonus round of new music from someone who – as of his career-spanning retrospective just a couple of years ago – said he was ducking out of the studio for a while.

Order this CD

  1. The Everyday (3:13)
  2. The View Is Worth The Climb (3:57)
  3. Going Going Gone (3:49)
  4. All This And More (3:59)
  5. Wild Sweet Children (4:13)
  6. Everybody’s Wrong (3:16)
  7. Can’t Be Found (3:40)
  8. Opposite Sign (4:07)
  9. People Like Us (4:06)
  10. Certain Way (3:39)
  11. Keep Talking (3:49)

Released by: ABC Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 41:38

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Tim Finn – North, South, East, West…: Anthology

North, South, East, WestIt’s something of an understatement to say that Tim Finn has earned a best-of album by now. The only catch is that it’s taken so long that there’s probably a whole generation in New Zealand – never mind everywhere else – asking “Tim who?” Hence, North, South, East, West… has a bit of an identity crisis: it’s not just a Tim Finn compilation, but crams in the better part of a best of Split Enz best-of album and selections from Crowded House (well, after a fashion) and the Finn Brothers, in addition to the obligatory new songs designed to hook in everyone who’s already bought all of Tim’s previous work.

With that in mind, you have to forgive North, South, East, West…‘s inherent schizophrenia. The one common thread linking all of this very disparate material is Finn’s extremely versaitle voice. Whether it’s the very orchestrated sound of Split Enz or the relatively stripped-down guitar wash of Crowded House or the Finn Brothers, Finn’s voice cuts through the whole mix every time. His solo work has darted back and forth between more ornamented, Enz-like songs and more acoustic fare, so even if you set aside his non-solo projects, there’s no one sound dominating the entire 2-CD set.

The obligatory new material includes songs we haven’t heard before, and new recordings of songs that we have. Finn covers Split Enz’s “Stuff And Nonsense” as a duet with Missy Higgins, and gives Crowded House’s “It’s Only Natural” a similar treatment with Bic Runga riding shotgun. He also covers the Crowded House hit-in-some-parts-of-the-world “Weather With You” with Neil and Liam Finn. Also included are very stripped-down new versions of “So Deep” (from his very-produced, dance-rhythm-heavy second solo album Big Canoe) and Crowded House’s “How Will You Go”, and an instrumental piano cover of a portion of Split Enz’s “Poor Boy”. I felt that a partial cover was a little bit of a cheat (especially when it’s done so well), and “So Deep” already wasn’t my favorite song from Big Canoe, and it doesn’t really benefit from the toned-down rethink. I’m much more partial to “How Will You Go” in its original form, so this new recording, relieved of most of its beautiful vocal harmonies, certainly doesn’t supplant the original. It’s interesting to note that none of the Crowded House songs on this collection are the original recordings – all of them are re-interpretations.

Fortunately, the genuinely new tracks are a treat: “Into The Water” and especially the jumpy “Light Years Away” are up there with the best of Finn’s output over the past decade, and “Nothing Unusual” winds up being a kind of theme song for the whole compilation: it borrows the main riff from “Many’s The Time” and namechecks Enz chestnuts like “Maybe” and “Malmsbury Villa”, and the lyrics talk about the inspiration for songs in general – it’s a song about when one writes and performs songs, a bit of a meta-song, and a pleasant one at that.

Listening back to the songs chosen from Finn’s large body of solo work, I have to say that generally, the songs are very well-chosen; it seems like Big Canoe and Finn’s self-titled 1989 album were buried for some reason (and I still count the latter among his very best solo work), and his work from the musical stage production Steel City isn’t represented at all, but as many labels as Finn has 3 out of 4been on over the years there may be issues there (which may also explain the Crowded House oddity noted above). Once the compilation moves on to music from 1993’s Before & After, things tend to line up, more or less, with the Tim Finn best-of mixes that I’ve been creating for myself for years. Considering how hard it’s become to find some of Tim Finn’s material, this compilation is probably a good idea for those curious about his work.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. I See Red performed by Split Enz (3:17)
  2. My Mistake performed by Split Enz (3:02)
  3. Poor Boy performed by Split Enz (3:23)
  4. Six Months In A Leaky Boat performed by Split Enz (4:23)
  5. I Hope I Never performed by Split Enz (4:36)
  6. Dirty Creature performed by Split Enz (4:01)
  7. Maybe performed by Split Enz (2:53)
  8. Stuff And Nonsense performed by Tim Finn & Missy Higgins (3:27)
  9. Fraction Too Much Friction (4:10)
  10. Made My Day (3:20)
  11. So Deep (4:15)
  12. How’m I Gonna Sleep (3:52)
  13. Not Even Close (4:18)
  14. Many’s The Time (4:20)
  15. Persuasion (3:52)
  16. Into The Water (3:14)
  17. Nothing Unusual (4:02)
    Disc Two

  1. Weather With You performed by Tim, Neil & Liam Finn (3:43)
  2. How Will You Go (2:59)
  3. It’s Only Natural performed by Tim Finn & Bic Runga (3:44)
  4. Underwater Mountain (3:55)
  5. Dead Man (4:04)
  6. What You’ve Done (3:43)
  7. Subway Dreaming (4:16)
  8. Angels’ Heap performed by the Finn Brothers (2:50)
  9. Disembodied Voices performed by the Finn Brothers (3:37)
  10. Luckiest Man Alive performed by the Finn Brothers (3:59)
  11. Winter Light (4:11)
  12. Couldn’t Be Done (2:53)
  13. Astounding Moon (3:36)
  14. Straw To Gold (3:58)
  15. Out Of This World (3:01)
  16. The Saw And The Tree (4:05)
  17. Light Years Away (3:09)
  18. Poor Boy (instrumental) (1:31)

Released by: Capitol / EMI
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 64:25
Disc two total running time: 63:14

7 Worlds Collide – The Sun Came Out

7 Worlds Collide - The Sun Came OutThe first 7 Worlds Collide album (and DVD) chronicled an all-star gathering of international musicians who assembled quickly to play a few dates in Neil Finn’s stomping grounds; the album was culled from the live performances, and the superstar band (which included the likes of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) disbanded, after its shows raised money for charity. The second release under the 7 Worlds Collide banner retains the all-star band part of the formula, but the resulting double album is a creature of the studio, often under the watchful production eye of Neil Finn and/or the talent to which any given track is credited. There a few old faces and a few new ones as well: many of the guest musicians are drawn from a somewhat more local talent pool, with a number of names who may be well known in New Zealand but perhaps not so much outside of the south Pacific.

Virtually the entire Finn family is present, naturally; Neil Finn duets with his wife Sharon on “Little By Little”, a song about the rapid approach of an empty nest at home, and he also duets with Liam Finn, his son who’s carving out a respectable career as a solo artist, on “Learn To Crawl”. Liam also gets a solo turn in the twisty waltz “Red Wine Bottle”, while his younger brother Elroy (who has already been playing live with Crowded House) gets the studio to himself for “The Cobbler”, and while he hasn’t quite carved out the unique sound that Liam has, Elroy still bears watching – as with his older brother, his voice gives away his lineage. Tim Finn also turns in a pleasant solo song, “Riding The Wave.” Fans of the Finn family tree certainly won’t be disappointed by this collection.

Neil’s signature production style permeates nearly every other track on the album, too. It could be argued that The Sun Came Out is perhaps a little less varied in style than the previous 7 Worlds Collide project; with the whole thing in the studio under Finn’s aegis, it’s easy to tell who was at the wheel. This doesn’t detract from the fact that there are some fantastic songs here: Don McGlashan’s “Make Your Own Mind Up” and the KT Tunstall/Bic Runga duet “Black Silk Ribbon” are two of the best songs I’ve heard out of anyone, anywhere, all year long. Liam Finn’s “Red Wine Bottle” is a low-key number that sticks in your head, while the cheery lead track, Johnny Marr and Neil Finn’s “Too Blue”, is enough to brighten anyone’s mood. I also have to single out Jeff Tweedy’s “You Never Know” for special praise: the tune, the performance and the production almost achingly remind me of early ’70s George Harrison, and this is not a bad thing. At all.

If I have a single complaint with The Sun Came Out, it’s that the first disc is a pure pop adrenaline rush, while the second seems to slow down. It really doesn’t, but somehow the second CD lacks the “oomph” packed by the first disc (which literally doesn’t let up for its entire running time). And disc two is no slouch by any means – we get a new Neil Finn solo number (“All Comedians Suffer”), Tim’s and Elroy’s songs, KT Tunstall’s “Hazel Black”, and another Don McGlashan number, “Long Time Gone”. There’s no letdown in quality but somehow there’s a slight darkening of mood.

4 out of 4But that’s a very minor quibble indeed; with the possible exception of Battlestar Galactica Season 4 (and let’s face it, in most cases these two projects are aimed at wildly different audiences), there’s not another two-disc set that’s going to give you this much enjoyment for the price – and once again, Finn & company are sharing the proceeds with charity, so there’s more feel-good to some of these feel-good songs than you might expect. Very, very highly recommended. (Now get back in the studio with Crowded House, Neil!)

Order this CDDisc One

  1. Too Blue – Johnny Marr with Neil Finn (4:01)
  2. You Never Know – Jeff Tweedy (4:18)
  3. Little By Little – Sharon Finn and Neil Finn (3:18)
  4. Learn To Crawl – Neil Finn & Liam Finn (4:59)
  5. Black Silk Ribbon – KT Tunstall & Bic Runga (3:48)
  6. Girl Make Your Own Mind Up – Don McGlashan (5:29)
  7. Run In The Dust – Johnny Marr (4:23)
  8. Red Wine Bottle – Liam Finn (4:26)
  9. The Ties That Bind Us – Phil Selway (3:22)
  10. Reptile – Lisa Germano (3:53)
  11. Bodhisattva Blues – Ed O’ Brien & Neil Finn (3:55)
  12. What Could Have Been – Jeff Tweedy (3:41)

Disc Two

  1. All Comedians Suffer – Neil Finn (4:28)
  2. Duxton Blues – Glenn Richards (3:35)
  3. Hazel Black – KT Tunstall (3:46)
  4. Riding The Wave – Tim Finn (3:32)
  5. The Witching Hour – Phil Selway (3:03)
  6. Over & Done – John Stirratt (3:41)
  7. A Change Of Heart – Bic Runga (3:14)
  8. Don’t Forget Me – Pat Sansone (3:38)
  9. Long Time Gone – Don McGlashan (4:02)
  10. The Cobbler – Elroy Finn (4:33)
  11. 3 Worlds Collide (3:06)
  12. The Water – Sebastian Steinberg (4:02)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 49:33
Disc two total running time: 44:40

Tim Finn – The Conversation

Tim Finn - The ConversationSome concept albums try to tell a specific story, while, with some concept albums, the “concept” is built around specific musical parameters – we’re only going to use these instruments, or we’re only going to play live with no overdubs. In the case of Tim Finn’s The Conversation, it’s the latter kind of concept album: reuniting with fellow Split Enz alumni Eddie Rayner on piano and Miles Golding on violin, Tim Finn aims for nothing less than a folk-rock version of chamber music.

Now, this isn’t to say that it’s strictly lo-fi. Within that very specific combination of instruments, there are plenty of possibilities for a variety of sounds. The opening track, “Straw To Gold”, ends with a searing duet between violin and electric guitar. “Only A Dream” takes on a dreamy, almost-old-school bluegrass/country flavor with its guitar work. Out of the entire album, only “Forever Thursday” has drums at all. One guest musician brings a special touch to one particular song; “The Saw And The Tree”, which turns out to be an anti-domestic-violence song, features an actual saw solo that, against Golding’s violin work in the background, is positively haunting. The “limited range of instruments” turns out not to be much of a limit at all here.

The presence of Split Enz musicians doesn’t mean that this is a particularly Enz-y album, although it seems as though Finn’s Enz experiences inform the lyrics in many cases. Musically, the closest The Conversation gets to the Split Enz ethos is the light-hearted “Great Return”, and the Enz-iest element of that song is Rayner’s piano work. As Golding was dropped from the Enz lineup very early in the 1970s, when the band went from acoustic to electric, it’s hard to nail any of his performances down as particularly Enz in nature, and even so, there are almost 40 years of professional classical concert performance that stand a slightly better chance of being a musical influence on him. Lyrically, “Fall From Grace” references the Enz song “Maybe” and seems to be Finn’s equivalent of “All Those Years Ago”, while one wonders if “More Fool Me” isn’t a song whose words are pointed at a certain Mr. Judd.

4 out of 4In the end, though, The Conversation is not only uniquely Tim Finn, but it’s fairly unique within Tim Finn’s body of work; I’d be very surprised to hear him do another album in this style, but The Conversation – despite its sparse arrangements – is substantial enough that it’s a very worthwhile detour from Finn’s usual fare.

Order this CD

  1. Straw To Gold (3:57)
  2. Out Of This World (3:01)
  3. The Saw & The Tree (4:04)
  4. Slow Mystery (4:00)
  5. Rearview Mirror (3:43)
  6. Only A Dream (2:31)
  7. Fall From Grace (2:42)
  8. Invisible (3:51)
  9. Snowbound (2:57)
  10. Great Return (3:02)
  11. Imaginary Kingdom (3:17)
  12. Forever Thursday (2:57)
  13. More Fool Me (3:41)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 43:43

Tim Finn – Imaginary Kingdom

Tim Finn - Imaginary KingdomAlmost a year after one of its songs (“Winter Light”) made a surprise appearance on the soundtrack from the big-budget, big-screen adaptation of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, Tim Finn’s new album is here at last, presenting a somewhat more polished and sedate sound than his previous two solo efforts, and yet with hints of some of his past musical endeavours.

There are hints of the old Split Enz quirkiness in “So Precious,” hints of Before & After funkiness in “Dead Flowers,” “Horizon” has an almost intangible similarity to the best songs from Big Canoe (and has just a little of the feel of New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”), “Still The Song” has the feel of his previous two solo albums, and “Couldn’t Be Done” and “Show Yourself” have a little something of the blue-eyed-soul of his very first solo album. That’s not to say that any of these songs are anything less than original and enjoyable; instead, if you’ve liked any of the stylistic stops Tim’s made along his musical career, there’s at least one or two songs on Imaginary Kingdom that will instantly lodge themselves in your head.

There are also songs that are completely different from any of the styles he’s visited before; as I probably mentioned when reviewing the Narnia soundtrack, “Winter Light” is positively lovely and sedate, and “Astounding Moon” has something of the same orchestra-backed feel to it. “Unsinkable” has a quiet, stately feel to it, but even more than that, the lyrics are outstanding, using the sinking of the Titanic (!) as a metaphor for a child’s first realization of his parents’ mortality. That’s not a topic I recall having heard in a lot of pop music before. This is just another example of this album’s depths – there are plenty of layers to peel back, and plenty to enjoy.

4 out of 4Kudos to co-producer Bobby Huff and engineer/session player John Mark Painter (who happens to be a frequent collaborator with Ben Folds – now there’s someone who I’d pay good money to hear work with Tim in the future) for helping to smooth out the sound of this album; Huff is a surprising name to see here, given that his most recent credit that I can recall is the last Leann Rimes album. Ultimately, though, the music and lyrics are Tim’s babies, and this album is a crop of winners without a single misfire. Tim Finn definitely rules this Imaginary Kingdom.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Couldn’t Be Done (2:50)
  2. Still The Song (2:48)
  3. Astounding Moon (3:35)
  4. Midnight Coma (2:52)
  5. Salt To The Sea (3:45)
  6. Horizon (3:23)
  7. Dead Flowers (3:37)
  8. Resting (Your Hand Lightly) (3:20)
  9. Show Yourself (3:01)
  10. Winter Light (4:10)
  11. So Precious (3:19)
  12. Unsinkable (2:55)

Released by: Parlophone
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 39:41

She Will Have Her Way: The Songs Of Tim & Neil Finn

She Will Have Her WayIt’s very simple, the premise of this tribute to the music of New Zealand’s premiere pop music exports, Tim and Neil Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House, and respective solo careers and collaborations as the Finn Brothers). The basic idea is this: female or predominantly female acts from Australia and New Zealand reinterpret songs from various stages of the Finns’ careers in their own style. What emerges from that idea is an array of wildly different styles, voices and degrees of fidelity to the source material.

If you’re not from that part of the world, you may not know who virtually all of the performers are (I can relate – prior to this CD, I must confess that I had only heard of Boh Runga and Natalie Imbruglia). But like a lot of “various artists” projects heavy with smaller acts, you’ll probably walk away from the endeavour wanting to sample more of their work. Clare Bowditch’s rendition of “Fall At Your Feet” gets things rolling, and as much as I was faintly disappointed by the fact that the song that gave this album its name wasn’t actually covered, “Fall At Your Feet” serves as a good eye-opener when the unchanged lyric “I’m really close tonight, and I feel myself moving inside her” is sung by a female vocalist. This is an excellent cover too, stripping the song down to basics somewhat and yet retaining so much of its yearning feel.

A few of the covers are almost baffling, but at the same time I admire the reinvention of every single one of them. Renee Geyer transforms “Into Temptation” into a pop song with hip-hop influences, and “Persuasion” and “One Step Ahead” make a successful leap into bubblegum pop territory. Some of the covers don’t stray far from the source material at all – “Won’t Give In”, from the Finn Brothers’ 2004 album, becomes just a little bit country-fried, while the group Little Birdy turns the dense synth textures of “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” into dense guitar textures. “I Hope I Never”, while a bit stripped down from the synth-orchestral arrangement of the 1980 Split Enz version, retains its soaring, wistful vocals thanks to Lisa Miller. “Better Be Home Soon”, which was always written as a ballad reflecting the thoughts of a woman whose significant other is away from home far too often, finally gets to be sung by a woman here.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about Holly Throsby’s “Not The Girl You Think You Are” remake, but that’s just down to it being not my favorite style of singing; your mileage may vary. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a nice cover, but almost strips the song down too much, only to restore it to its full glory by recasting the famous organ solo as a choral piece.

For the most part, the lyrics are left unchanged; a few adjustments are made for gender here and there. I was a little dismayed that “like a Christian fearing vengeance from above” was completely excised from “Distant Sun”; Brooke Fraser’s cover of the song is very nice, but there’s a little voice in my head that says these artists are supposed to be reinterpreting the songs here, not rewriting them. I found this single omission more jarring than any of the more daring stylistic alterations, because it changed what was being said and not how it was being said. (Neil Finn’s recurring “lapsed Catholic” theme is an intriguing thread running through a great many of his songs, and part of the character of his work.) But then maybe I’m being a bit too defensive of the source material there.

There are other ways to drastically change the character of a song, though. Sophie Koh’s reading of the early Enz tune “Charlie” takes the song’s already dark narrative – involving someone waking up from a hangover and realizing that they killed their friend during an argument the night before – and puts a whole different spin on it by making the song fast and fun, leaving the story intact but generating a “crazy chick” vibe that makes it unnerving in a whole new way – as if the person doing the singing isn’t remorseful of what has happened, but is instead blissfully unaware. “Charlie” is almost punk rock in this incarnation, and it may well be the best thing on the CD. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for some of Sophie Koh’s originals. I was surprised by how much I liked Natalie Imbruglia’s take on the Crowded House number “Pineapple Head”, too.

rating: 4 out of 4So, the question is…will you enjoy She Will Have Her Way? I give it a strong recommendation – in particular, even though I didn’t get it (mainly because I’ve already got all of the original albums on which these songs appeared), the 2-CD version which allows you to compare the covers with the original recordings. You might find some of the differences jaw-dropping. In any case, these were great songs to begin with – lyrically and musically outstanding works – and they survive even the wildest changes and still emerge as great songs. Whether you’re a Finn fan daring to try out some different takes on your favorites, or someone just now sampling both these artists and the music of Tim and Neil Finn for the first time, this is a solid collection that’ll keep you coming back for more.

Order this CD

  1. Fall At Your Feet – Claire Bowditch (3:50)
  2. Stuff And Nonsense – Missy Higgins (3:31)
  3. I’ll Never Know – Goldenhorse (3:04)
  4. Into Temptation – Renee Geyer (4:56)
  5. Six Months In A Leaky Boat – Little Birdy (3:53)
  6. Better Be Home Soon – Kasey Chambers (3:19)
  7. Distant Sun – Brooke Fraser (3:56)
  8. Not The Girl You Think You Are – Holly Throsby (3:37)
  9. I Hope I Never – Lisa Miller (4:09)
  10. Don’t Dream It’s Over – Sarah Blasko (4:42)
  11. One Step Ahead – Amiel (3:01)
  12. Four Seasons In One Day – New Buffalo (4:00)
  13. Won’t Give In – Sara Storer (4:18)
  14. Pineapple Head – Natalie Imbruglia (3:23)
  15. Persuasion – Stellar* (3:41)
  16. Charlie – Sophie Koh (3:47)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 61:07

Finn Brothers – Won’t Give In

Finn Brothers - Won't Give In CD singleThe first single from Tim & Neil Finn’s recent Everyone Is Here album, “Won’t Give In” is accompanied on this CD single by a couple of songs that, perhaps, lend a little bit of insight into why that album was essentially recorded twice.

The lead single itself is, naturally, the same as what appears on the album, no surprises there. The real gem of this three-track CD is “Way Back Down”, a Neil-heavy number with some fun lyrics and interesting musical structure that just begs for a singalong. “Way Back Down” was produced by Mitchell Froom, the Crowded House producer who worked with the Finns to rerecord all but one of the tracks for Everyone Is Here almost from scratch. As catchy as it is, I’m surprised that this song didn’t make the cut for the album itself; I could actually nominate a song or two whose place it could’ve taken.

“Almost” means that some elements, especially the occasional orchestral backing arrangement, was salvaged from the original sessions produced by the legendary Tony Visconti. The second non-album B-side featured here, “Sunset Swim”, is a survivor of those original sessions, and it’s a laid-back, folky number with some interesting, singing-in-the-round elements to it. Interestingly, the one Visconti-produced track to survive on the album itself was the slickly-produced “Disembodied Voices”, which didn’t sound out of step with the Froom-produced tracks. “Sunset Swim”, on the other hand, is loose enough that it almost hearkens back to the 3 out of 4original Finn Brothers album – and whether the artists or their label made the decision, one gets the feeling that someone wanted to avoid that comparison.

An interesting trio of songs, this one – it’s worth it just to hear “Way Back Down”.

Order this CD

  1. Won’t Give In (4:18)
  2. Way Back Down (4:12)
  3. Sunset Swim (3:50)

Released by: Parlophone / EMI
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 12:22