Pajama Club

Pajama ClubNeil Finn has so many “side projects” going that it’s hard to pick out which one is his main concern. Following on the heels of his duet with his wife Sharon on the last 7 Worlds Collide charity album (an all-star side project), Pajama Club sees the Finns team up with a couple of collaborators. Those accustomed to Neil Finn’s vocal virtuosity may find his wife’s vocals to be unsophisticated by comparison, but actually quite pleasant without being showy.

Anytime a rock star brings his spouse or significant other into the studio with him, it’s tempting to dredge up the collective ill will that lingers in some quarters for Yoko Ono’s half of Double Fantasy. Chances are that anyone expecting a straight-up Finn solo album won’t hear what they want to hear, but the good news is that Pajama Club is no Double Fantasy – and Sharon Finn is no Yoko. For several of the songs in which she’s prominent, such as “Tell Me What You Want” and “Go-Kart”, a playful simplicity works just fine. And frankly, there are too many instances of the couple taking turns on vocals and not enough standout husband-and-wife harmony here (i.e. “From A Friend To A Friend”).

Neil gets some more-or-less solo tunes of note in toward the end of the album, including “Dead Leg”, “TNT For Two” and “The Game We Love To Play”, all of which sound almost nothing like Crowded House. It’s the furthest afield he’s gone from the sound with which he’s most associated since the 1998 solo debut Try Whistling This – and it’s a truly interesting change of pace. Even Whistling‘s most atypical tracks have nothing on the experimental nature of “Dead Leg” and “The Game We Love To Play”, the latter of which almost reminds me of White Noise – not a comparison I ever expected to make with any of the Finns.

3 out of 4An interesting detour from Neil Finn’s not-too-far-removed-from-Crowded-House sound, Pajama Club may not be to everyone’s taste, but it represents a welcome trip off the beaten path – perhaps one that bears a second round in the future. Even if you’re not fond of Finn’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of side projects, this is worth a listen. It’s not perfect or even polished, but there’s a lot to like here.

Order this CD

  1. Tell Me What You Want (3:35)
  2. Can’t Put It Down Until It Ends (3:51)
  3. These Are Conditions (2:38)
  4. From A Friend To A Friend (5:15)
  5. Golden Child (3:18)
  6. Daylight (3:53)
  7. Go Kart (3:46)
  8. Dead Leg (3:37)
  9. TNT For Two (4:33)
  10. The Game We Love To Play (3:42)
  11. Diamonds In Her Eyes (5:16)

Released by: Lester Records
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 43:24

Inception – music by Hans Zimmer

InceptionAccompanying one of 2010’s biggest mess-with-your-mind movies, Hans Zimmer’s darkly atmospheric soundtrack is enjoyable on its own too. Zimmer makes excellent use of his trademark rapid-fire cello section (see also: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, or almost any other action blockbuster Zimmer has scored in the past ten years) as well as some inspired guitar work by Johnny Marr, but for some of the movie’s dreamier sequences (and it really is all about dreaming), he also introduces an unsettlingly unresolved four-chord sequence, providing a thoughtful interlude for the movie’s more thoughtful moments.

That sequence, the backbone of the whole score, either gently hints that something is amiss with what some of the characters (and the audience) perceives as reality, or telegraphs its with gigantic, ominous, end-of-the-world blasts of low brass. On CD, the theme is soft-pedaled a bit until it blows you out of your seat in “The Dream Is Collapsing”.

Other thematic material gradually appears, from the boisterous five-minute balls-to-the-wall action cue “Mombasa” to more strangely unsettling melodies in “One Simple Idea” and “Dream Within A Dream” – again, using chord sequences that seem circular because there’s not an obvious beginning or end. “Radical Notion” slowly brings in a pulsating low string ostinato that grows until it washes everything else out pretty spectacularly. Even when a more positive variation on one of these primary themes appears late in the score (and the movie), it has a bittersweet sound – and it still doesn’t quite come to a definitive resolution.

In some ways, Zimmer’s music for Inception summons up memories of the late, great John Barry’s score for The Black Hole – musically, it’s beautiful, but much of the score inspires a growing sense of pure dread. Considering how highly regarded Barry’s soundtrack has been, this is nothing but a compliment. (Given Zimmer’s trademark sound of 4 out of 4repeating low string ostinatos, the Inception soundtrack should also be on the list of anyone who spent all of 2010 eagerly waiting for the Tron Legacy soundtrack.)

There’s a reason the music from Inception has earned Hans Zimmer an Oscar nomination (one of several for Inception overall, I might add). Even when I’ve liked Zimmer’s work in the past, it hasn’t had quite the depth and epic scale that Inception has. Like the storyline it accompanies, it sticks in your head.

Order this CD

  1. Half-Remembered Dream (1:13)
  2. We Built Our Own World (1:55)
  3. Dream Is Collapsing (2:24)
  4. Radical Notion (3:43)
  5. Old Souls (7:44)
  6. 528491 (2:23)
  7. Mombasa (4:52)
  8. One Simple Idea (2:28)
  9. Dream Within A Dream (5:04)
  10. Waiting For A Train (9:28)
  11. Paradox (3:22)
  12. Time (4:35)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 49:11

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