Release Date: Feb 11, 2014
Record label: Lester Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
A common criticism levelled at Finn’s two previous solo albums, Try Whistling This (1998) and One Nil (2001), was that neither ventured especially far from the sturdy pop-rock template of his work with Crowded House. He may well have taken those observations on board when setting out to make Dizzy Heights, as the change in game plan delivers in spades. Part of the credit has to go to producer Dave Fridmann, as motifs of his previous employers The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev sneak into these songs.
Neil Finn's acknowledged mastery of songcraft is matched on his third solo album, his first since 2001, by his inventive production alongside Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with Tame Impala, Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips. The string arrangements in particular thrill and surprise, opening track Impressions recalling Isaac Hayes. While he echoes Lennon (the slapback vocal of Better than TV) and McCartney (the title track's bubbly synths recall Wonderful Christmas Time), his influences are worn lightly.
Solo-wise, Neil Finn hasn’t been particularly productive over the last two decades, with Dizzy Heights his first solo album since 2001’s acclaimed One-Nil. Still, he’s been incredibly busy; in-between there have been three Crowded House albums, his 7 Worlds Collide project, one album made with his brother Tim and 2011’s effort as part of Pajama Club with wife Sharon, which took many by surprise with its lo-fi ESG inspired funkiness. Indeed, for Dizzy Heights Finn sprang something of a surprise again by drafting in highly esteemed producer Dave Fridmann, perhaps most known for his work with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev.
Since 2001's One Nil -- which was later reworked into One All -- Neil Finn has recorded an album with his brother Tim, reunited Crowded House for two new albums, formed the collective 7 Worlds Collide, launched Pajama Club with his wife Sharon, and released a live record in tandem with Paul Kelly, but despite all this activity there is one thing he's avoided: releasing a collection of his original songs under his own name. Dizzy Heights rectifies that situation and not in a predictable fashion. Collaborating with Dave Fridmann, a producer who made his reputation through his work with neo-psychedelic bands Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, Finn luxuriates within the fathomless spaciness of Dizzy Heights.
On his first solo record under his own name since 2001’s One Nil, the father of Liam shows where his son gets his itch for experimentation. Perhaps unlike other musicians his age, Neil Finn isn’t comfortable sticking with what’s comfortable, which would presumably be a collection of stripped- down songs. Instead the former Split Enz and Crowded House frontman goes for the jugular by taking a chance with a delightfully fresh sound.
It’s been a dozen years since Neil Finn’s last solo album, but that means next to nothing. In the time between 2002’s One All and the new Dizzy Heights, the New Zealander has released three Crowded House records, one Finn Brothers full-length, a record with Aussie singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, a Split Enz live album, and a collection of songs by his global side project 7 Worlds Collide, which brought artists from all over the world (but mainly England and America) to New Zealand for a few informal sessions. Age has not, obviously, slowed him down, as Finn refuses to spend his 50s doling out event releases, intimate small-club tours, or—god forbid—more career retrospectives.
Anyone who heard ex-Crowded House/Split Enz frontman Finn’s previous side project, 2011’s often skewed, modern rock-informed Pajama Club, knows that he is too restless an artist to be stuck in one groove. So the more experimental aspects of the appropriately titled Dizzy Heights, the first release under Finn’s own name in nearly 12 years, shouldn’t come as a total surprise. That’s especially because it’s co-produced by Dave Fridmann, whose work with the Flaming Lips, MGMT and Mercury Rev among many others brings an oblique but intriguing widescreen post-psychedelic, other worldly view to the table that pushes Neil Finn’s pop into cool, if occasionally obtuse territory.
The ex-Split Enz and Crowded House frontman's decision to get Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips, Tame Impala) in on desk duties for his first solo album in 13 years has paid dividends of texture and atmosphere. Opener Impressions is all blurred focus and high harmonies, while the jauntier title track is prettified by sweet synth chords and swooping slide guitar. As the album hits its stride it heads squarely into AOR territory, and one or two tracks could have been a good minute shorter, but even tracks such as the pop-rock single Flying in the Face of Love are lifted by superior production.
Left turns are a good thing, right? 'Progress is impossible without change' said George Bernard Shaw, and he was a man who knew. When someone ditches the artistic safety net, the innovation should be celebrated. We talk about changes of direction and we consider Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Dylan going electric, Radiohead’s Kid A, the second season of The Wire (shut up, it’s the second best one) or U2’s Nineties output (again, shut up, it’s their best work).
New Zealand’s Neil Finn needs no introduction for those who are into New Wave. He was the late ‘70s and early ‘80s frontman for Split Enz, responsible for such instantly catchy classics as “I Got You”, “One Step Ahead” and “Six Months in a Leaky Boat”. Honestly, if you haven’t heard 1982’s Time and Tide from Split Enz, here’s a handgun for you to fight your way through the hordes to your local record store.