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

FAB featuring MC Number 6 – The Prisoner

FAB featuring MC Number 6 - The PrisonerProduced with the blessing of Patrick McGoohan himself, this CD single is a lively remix/remake of Ron Grainer’s immortal theme from The Prisoner. Sound clips from the original series are sprinkled liberally throughout the song and become an integral part of its rhythm.

The best of the three tracks is the first, clocking in at about three and a half minutes; all three tracks incorporate the same ideas, but the second and third tracks are twice as long… and neither uses the extra time to expand on the musical or thematic ideas significantly. The succinctness of the original mix is, frankly, the best thing about it. The original elements of the music itself are very much a product of the times: think of the theme song from Cops, and you’ll have a good idea of the reggae-styled rap that kicks in about halfway through the song.

The best part of this remix is that someone really “got” the material. The clips are chosen well, and even the rap bit in the middle of the song dovetails thematically with The Prisoner’s over-arching themes of 3 out of 4freedom, entrapment and rebellion. This is a cut above a lot of TV theme remixes where random clips are shoveled in on top of a 140bpm reworking of the original music – this takes the ideas behind the original material and runs with them – successfully, in my opinion.

Order this CD

  1. The Prisoner (Free Man Mix) (3:20)
  2. The Prisoner (Confidential Mix) (6:09)
  3. The Escape (Solitary Club Mix) (6:10)

Released by: Telstar Records
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 15:39

Jason Falkner – All Quiet On The Noise Floor

Jason Falkner - All Quiet On The Noise FloorYet another Jason Falkner solo album that has so far only been released in Japan (as of this writing, his previous album, I’m OK You’re OK, still has yet to hit our shores as anything other than an import), All Quiet On The Noise Floor may well be the best thing Falkner’s done since Can You Still Feel? Still drenching everything in a guitars-at-the-front-of-the-mix 1970s power pop style, Falkner’s songs are better this time around. Tunes such as “Maybe The Universe”, “Doin’ Me In” and “Emotion Machine” are instantly catchy and hard to get out of your head.

I also have to give a recommendation to the mostly-acoustic “Counting Sheep”, one of the most infectious melodies Falkner has graced us with since his first album. Another catchy number, “My Home Is Not A House”, dates back to Falkner’s well-circulated demo tapes and originated during his brief stint as one of The Grays. “Doin’ Me In” is a fast-paced, talky rocker that lands somewhere between The Clash and The Knack in style (and that’s not something one can say about just any song).

4 out of 4If there’s a single problem with All Quiet On The Noise Floor, it’s that, once again, one has to blow a lot of money (relatively speaking, for a single CD) to get a Japanese import. Falkner himself has implored his fans to hold off an wait for a domestic release, which he assures us is coming – his logic there is that he’ll only land a North American tour if a domestic release generates significant sales. As if his fans are going to hold off that long (and as if his fans won’t go ahead and buy any eventual U.S. release anyway, just for a shot at that tour).

Order this CD

  1. Princessa (4:20)
  2. Emotion Machine (3:12)
  3. Counting Sheep (3:58)
  4. Evangeline (4:02)
  5. The Lie In Me (5:17)
  6. Maybe The Universe (5:17)
  7. Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus (4:02)
  8. My Home Is Not A House (3:51)
  9. Doin’ Me In (3:49)
  10. Y.E.S. (5:40)
  11. This Time ’09 (4:40)

Released by: Noise McCartney Records / Phantom
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 48:08

Liam Finn + Eliza Jane – Champagne In Seashells

Liam Finn + Eliza Jane - Champagne In SeashellsAn EP to keep his fans satisfied after his successful (to say the least) indie debut, Champagne In Seashells isn’t so much a continuation of I’ll Be Lightning as it is a continuation of Finn’s celebrated live show, in which he uses multiple looping effects pedals and multiple instruments to perform stunning feats of live multitracking, building his grooves up right before his delighted audiences’ eyes. Along for the ride this time is E.J. Barnes, who’s been integral to his live show for some time now.

With only five songs, you probably wouldn’t expect dizzying experimental heights from Champagne In Seashells – but it manages to deliver them anyway. The highlights of this quintet are the distinctly ’80s-flavored “Long Way To Go”, and the final track, “On Your Side”, with Barnes’ beguiling lead vocals lending a whole new feel to Finn’s experimental palette of sounds. I don’t know if the two are 4 out of 4planning on forging ahead as a double act, but with songs like, that, it certainly can’t hurt to consider it.

“Won’t Change My Mind” also reminds us that Liam Finn has stepped out from the not-inconsiderable shadow of his musical dad and uncle not because of studio trickery, but because he’s a gifted songwriter and performer in his own right – really, the whole EP is a testament to that, and as such comes highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Plane Crash (3:43)
  2. Long Way To Go (2:45)
  3. Won’t Change My Mind (6:34)
  4. Honest Face (3:42)
  5. On Your Side (3:02)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 19:46

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

Ben Folds – Way To Normal

Ben Folds - Way To NormalBen Folds’ first entire album of new material since 2005’s Songs For Silverman (Supersunnyspeedgraphic really just being a compilation of material that had been tried out on limited-run EPs first), Way To Normal heralds Folds’ return to the U.S. (accompanied by the almost prerequisite seismic changes in his personal life), and as a result, the musical tone shifts wildly from song to song.

There are songs that are immediately accessible (the duet “You Don’t Know Me”, set to a drum machine beat with sampled strings, and “Cologne” and “Kylie From Connecticut”, both reminiscent of Folds’ best ballads), and some that may take a bit of time to grow accustomed to. “The Frown Song” is a nifty little number whose mosquito-like synths may be off-putting at first, and “Brainwashed” with its overpowering drum beat instantly brought New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” to mind. “Errant Dog” and “Bitch Went Nuts” will appeal to fans of quirky Ben Folds Five numbers like “Song For The Dumped”. I can’t quite get my head around “Free Coffee”, but that’s simply because of the production choices made and not the song itself – there’s a very hissy, high-frequency sound running through most of the song that I just find irritating. As a fan of production-driven orchestrated rock, I’m all for trying out daring things at the mixing board, but if it drives the listener away, what’s the point?

3 out of 4The usual caveats apply to Folds’ music – no-holds-barred language (it definitely earns its dreaded “parental advisory” sticker on the cover) being chief among them – but long-term Folds fans will probably be (mostly) pleased. It’s just that there are a couple of tracks here that might throw even the devout followers; the album title itself seems to hint that Folds is trying to find his way back to normal (no, it’s not a text-message-speak-era typo of “way too normal”)…and maybe the next album will be a four-star offering once he gets there and life settles down a bit for him.

Order this CD

  1. Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head) (3:37)
  2. Dr. Yang (2:30)
  3. The Frown Song (3:37)
  4. You Don’t Know Me featuring Regina Spektor (3:11)
  5. Before Cologne (0:53)
  6. Cologne (5:02)
  7. Errant Dog (2:24)
  8. Free Coffee (4:01)
  9. Bitch Went Nuts (3:06)
  10. Brainwascht (3:48)
  11. Effington (3:32)
  12. Kylie From Connecticut (4:44)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 40:25

Jason Falkner – Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two

Bedtime With The Beatles 2Arriving as a bit of a surprise in between albums of sublime original material, Jason Falkner’s original Bedtime With The Beatles had a curious mandate of its own: recasting Lennon-McCartney classics as lullabyes for little Beatle-fans-to-be. And so help me, it worked – I always thought it was an incredibly relaxing album, but I didn’t realize the true power of it until years later when my own first child came along. Bedtime With The Beatles was a godsend. The arrival of this second volume of Falkner’s lullabye arrangements came out of nowhere too; maybe it’s because I don’t keep up with very many artists via fansites or MySpace or what have you, but I didn’t know it was in the works, and eagerly picked it up, because now I knew how handy it could be. It wasn’t just a matter of my personal tastes for enjoyment – I had a kid who desperately needed some new sleepytime material.

The problem there, however, is that Falkner’s arrangements on this second volume are much more “involved.” Great from an active listening standpoint, but there’s simply too much going on for it to reach quite the same level of relaxation as the first volume. In places – I’m looking at you, “Penny Lane” – Bedtime Part Two almost ceases to by lullabye music and slides its toes adventurously over the line into downtempo lounge arrangements of the Beatles.

That’s not to say that nothing here lives up to the sleepytime potential of the first volume. “She’s Leaving Home” – which was very nearly a lullabye to begin with in its original form – is positively inspired, with “Here Comes The Sun” coming in a close second as my favorite. “Hey Jude” has low-key vocals-as-instruments that really straddle the line between relaxing and active enough that they demand attention. Some songs, such as “Norwegian Wood”, “Something” and “I Will” try very hard to reach for the sound of the original recordings, with more elaborate guitar work or production, and as such they become “active listening” material. With its back-tracked keyboards and chiming guitar chords, I can’t really imagine anyone drifting off to Falkner’s cover of “Norwegian Wood”.

3 out of 4And what does the little E think? Maybe it was just because it was new music to his ears, combined with his general tendency toward trying to avoid sleep at all costs, but my attempt to introduce him to Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two confirmed my suspicions: he got too involved with listening to it to really relax. But in the end, soft-pedaling my one-year-old into his indoctrination as a potential Beatles listener can’t be all bad – but it’s not all meant for bed either.

Order this CD

  1. Norwegian Wood (3:28)
  2. Something (3:37)
  3. She’s Leaving Home (4:33)
  4. Penny Lane (4:27)
  5. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (4:38)
  6. Here Comes The Sun (3:33)
  7. I Will (2:07)
  8. Hey Jude (5:08)
  9. Yesterday (2:36)
  10. Good Night (4:54)

Released by: Adrenaline
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 39:01