My promised summary of some of my favorite Finn Brothers music. I’m always a little surprised that I’ve become such a big fan of Neil and Tim’s work over the years. I’m generally not into the singer-songwriter thing very much, even when it leans to the alterna-pop side of the spectrum. I guess I was entranced by the majesty of a certain song in the spring of 1986 and have never really gotten over it. Rather than do mini-reviews of each Neil Finn product I own, which were turning out to be not-so-mini, I’ll share my top ten Neil Finn songs with you. These are listed in chronological order, oldest to newest.
“I Got You” Split Enz, 1979. 18 year-old Neil joined his brother
Tim’s band and immediately paid dividends, penning this New Wave
classic that proved to be the Splits’ biggest international success.
Neil’s pure pop sensibilities were already coming through, despite his
youth. Interesting trivia note to music geeks: Neil had not yet
learned to play electric guitar when he joined the Splits….as their
lead guitarist. Not sure if that’s a high level of trust from big
brother, or a case of throwing someone into the fire to see how they
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” Crowded House, 1986. Still my favorite song
from the 80s and one of my all-time favs as well, this was the first
single from the band Neil formed after Split Enz dissolved in 1984.
Unfortunately, it was their only big hit in America, relegating the
band to One Hit Wonder status despite their international success over
the next eight years. A beautiful song full of conflicting emotions.
Is it triumphant or defeatist? Hopeful or melancholy? A little bit of
everything, this ambiguity adding to the genius of the track.
“Four Seasons in One Day” Crowded House, 1991. Tim briefly joined
CH in 1991 and helped to create what was the band’s most critically
acclaimed disk, Woodface. Much more mature and developed than their
work together in Split Enz, Woodface was both a brilliant apex for CH
and a sign of what was to come in future Finn brothers collaborations.
“Four Seasons” is an amazing work of simple harmonies and perfectly
“Distant Sun” Crowded House, 1993. Most of Neil’s love songs have
an interesting twist somewhere along the way that keep them from being
songs that can be comfortably used in weddings. There is always an
acknowledgment that partnerships are full of troubled times, wandering
eyes, and outright disloyalty. Trust me, I listened long and hard
hoping to find a song we could use at our wedding. This was the
closest I came; utterly gorgeous musically, but just a little too much
realism for me to ask a DJ to spin as S. and I started our lives
together. “I don’t pretend to know what you want, but I offer love.”
More a song written for 30 somethings who have learned life isn’t
perfect but are still in love than fresh-faced newlyweds who still
believe in fairy tales (And yes, I know we were 30 something when we
“Suffer Never” Finn Brothers, 1995. The highlight track from the
brothers’ first album as a duo. Dark and foreboding, it serves as a
nice balance to the brothers’ more buoyant works.
“She Will Have Her Way” Neil Finn, 1998. From Neil’s first solo
album, Try Whistling This. For most of the album he attempts to follow
his brother’s more experimental path. This track, however, fulfills
Neil’s perfect pop song quota.
“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “History Never Repeats” Neil
Finn & Friends, 2002. In 2001, Neil invited several musicians
whose work he admired and had been influenced by to join him at his
home in New Zealand. They would rehearse for a week, perform for seven
nights, and then break up the “band”, never to perform together again.
Joining him were Sebastian Steinberg of Soul Coughing, Ed O’Brien and
Phil Selway of Radiohead, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Indiana’s own Lisa
Germano who performed with John Cougar Mellencamp for almost ten years,
his brother Tim, his son Liam’s band Betchadupa, and the genius Johnny
Marr of the Smiths. The performances were documented on the tremendous
CD and DVD, Seven Worlds Collide. In addition to classic Neil tunes,
the “group” covered songs of each participant as well. Two of those
covers highlight the disks.
On “There Is a Light”, which happens
to be my favorite Smiths’ tune, Neil absolutely nails the lead vocal,
giving it a level of heartbreak that even Morrissey was unable to
reach. The brilliance of the song lies in the combination of absolute
depression and disconnection to the world with finding absolute love
which gives life meaning. One of the strangest love songs ever, the
chorus sums up that balance: “And if a double decker bus, crashes into
us, to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten
ton truck, kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the
pleasure, the privilege is mine.” Fairly sick stuff, yet both
Morrissey and Neil make it sound beautiful and heartwarming. Where the
dark one from Manchester sang with a disaffection that put the emphasis
on the angst of the song, Neil offers a warmth that puts the focus on
love. Musically, the cover isn’t much different than the original,
but that change in emphasis turns it into a totally different song.
and Betchadupa performed two Splits songs most nights, “I See Red” and
“History”, both of which were fairly straight-forward in their original
form. With 16 year old Liam and his band, which were heavily
influenced by Pearl Jam, rocking away in the background, Eddie glams it
up and turns both into neo-punk classics.
“Rest of the Day Off” Neil Finn, 2002. From Neil’s second solo
album, One Nil globally and One All (in a remixed form) in the States.
A gorgeous ode to turning off the phone, ignoring work obligations, and
kicking it with someone you love on a sunny, warm afternoon.
“Disembodied Voices” Finn Brothers, 2004. After making music
together periodically for almost 30 years, one would think the well
could be dry. Yet the Finn Brothers’ 2004 release Everyone Is Here was
loaded with tracks that were quickly labeled classics by their fans.
This gorgeous song is one of remembrance to times when young brothers
lay in bed talking about the possibilities of life at night when they
should have been sleeping. “Talking with my brother when the lights
went out. Down the hallway, 40 years ago. And what became much harder
was so easy then. Open up and letting go…”