Friday, August 04, 2006

The Popcraft of Neil Finn

The ever-reliable Neil Finn remains one of the industry's most under-recognised singer-songwriters, despite the long years of service he has put in with skewed new-wave geniuses Split Enz and legendary pop-rock combo Crowded House. This is a real shame, seeing that Finn has time and again proved to be a unique talent who manages to retain a genuine artistic sensibility while having a nose for commercial, chart-friendly melodies. Very few others of his generation, apart from sporadic, singular geniuses like Roddy Frame and Elvis Costello, have come close to matching his songwriting acumen.

While Finn has written his share of pop gems with Split Enz (e.g. "I Got You", "Message to My Girl"), and embarked on a slightly leftfield pop path during his solo jaunt, it as with the legendary Crowded House that his songwriting skills really came into a class of its own. Taking full advantage of his impeccable pop craftsmanship, Finn, during his ten years with the Antipodean pop institution, banged out some of the most memorable and enduring tunes to fill the airwaves and listeners' hearts. Finn wrote nary a duff track during the course of Crowded House's four studio albums, and here are some notable songs from that golden era:

DON'T DREAM IT'S OVER (Crowded House, 1986)
The Crowded House song that everyone from the ages of 8 to 80 are familiar with. A bittersweet rumination on lost innocence and happier times, this stately, lyrical ballad has been covered numerous times, and remains the best-loved songs in their repertoire.

SOMETHING SO STRONG (Crowded House, 1986)
Arguably the group's most optimistic number, this effervescent tune is the most expressive moment on the group's eponymous debut album. Also noteworthy for its seamless incorporation of Finn's approximation of mid-period Beatles guitar hooks.

BETTER BE HOME SOON (Temple of Low Men, 1988)
Another quietly regal ballad that possesses a slight country vibe, with some stellar Hammond organ grooves courtesy of Finn himself. A perfect closer for Crowded House's 1988 sophomore effort, "Temple of Low Men".

FALL AT YOUR FEET (Woodface, 1991)
The most obvious McCartney-esque number in the group's catalogue, and a prime contender for the title of "Archetypal Crowded House Song". The double-tracked harmonies here (supplied by Finn and brother Tim, a special guest on third album "Woodface") are absolutely heavenly.

FOUR SEASONS IN ONE DAY (Woodface, 1991)
A nice little ballad that contains the only Finn lyrical profanity to date, "Four Seasons in One Day" is also renowned for its baroque-style harpsichord solo during the song's middle eight.

FINGERS OF LOVE (Together Alone, 1993)
A moody, atmospheric epic that accurately reflects the isolated, pastoral surroundings in which the band recorded their fourth and final album, 1993's "Together Alone". Featuring some of Finn's most eloquent and articulate guitar work to date.

DISTANT SUN (Together Alone, 1993)
This luminous gem is the most immediate and accessible melody on "Together Alone", and a strong example of Finn's more spacey, but no less excellent latter-day songwriting aptitude.


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