I have been thinking about this for a while.
And over the weekend, for the first time in years, I listened to the last Neil Finn solo album, One Nil. This was released in 2001. Before that there was Try Whistling This (1998), which followed the announcement in 1996 that Crowded House was wrapping up.
Since then there has been plenty of activity: the first Seven Worlds Collide and the soundtrack to Rain. The second Finn Brothers album (2004) and 2007's return of Crowded House with Time on Earth. There have also been tours by The Finn Brothers, a re-formed Split Enz (again) and the re-formed Crowded House. Then there was the second set of Seven Worlds Collide shows.
It's pretty clear that Time on Earth (which has some strong songs) was going to be a Finn solo album - the follow-up to One Nil - and then Paul Hester died and Neil reconnected with Nick Seymour and turned it into a Crowded House reunion. I'm not knocking that motivation - or the outcome. But, here it is Neil Finn:
It is time for you to make a solo album again.
Many will jump to your defence here and say you have nothing to prove and if you want to continue making all-star albums you are entitled to (the second Seven Worlds Collide releases are on their way following January's shows - this time KT Tunstall and half of Wilco were added to the usual suspects from the previous set of shows and album).
Well, not me. It's time for you to front up with some new solo songs.
Don't get me wrong, I liked the last album with Tim Finn. I liked bits of Time on Earth. But songs like You Are the One To Make Me Cry (Crowded House) and Gentle Hum (Finn Brothers) feel like Neil Finn songs that deserve to be on a solo album but are hiding on collaborative projects.
And I think if we extend that it could be said that Neil, you are hiding behind collaborative projects.
I know people will say he can do what he likes (he can); he has achieved more than any other New Zealand songwriter (he has); he should be allowed to work with whoever he wants (of course he should - and is); I am jealous of Neil's Rolodex (that's just silly); and that we should be amazed at Neil's ability to lure people from Radiohead and Wilco out to NZ (well, yes and no).
Yes it is impressive that Neil can put together the Seven Worlds Collide shows and projects. It seems to be done for genuinely the right reasons too: the spirit of collaboration, artists on the same page, coming from different backgrounds but with a mutual respect...and so on...
But collaboration, as much as it can inspire creativity, is also a way to cover up for writer's block, for lack of inspiration, for a lack of confidence.
And I think, laugh at me all you want, that Neil Finn - let me just state emphatically you are one of my favourite songwriters of all time! - is currently suffering a crisis of confidence. I don't think that Neil can do it without his mates. Or should I say, I think Neil thinks he cannot do it without his mates.
You will tell me in the comments below, as you are allowed to do, that I don't know anything. That I can't write songs to save myself (and Neil probably could write a song to save people; probably has already). You will also say that there is nothing wrong with the collaborations that Finn is creating and involving himself in. Sure, but where is Neil Finn in all of this? He's not standing out front - alone - putting himself out there. He's in the band, with mates, playing a range of songs. Or he's on stage with Tim, hiding the bickering as best they can (don't catch them together on an off night!).
I want to see Neil Finn.
I want to see Neil tour New Zealand with a guitar, piano and ukulele. I want to hear an album of new Neil Finn songs performed by Neil and released under his name - with the superstar-friends kept to a healthy minimum.
I know you will say that Neil doesn't have to prove himself - but he does. And he should want to. He should want to release a solo album that is better than Try Whistling This and One Nil; better than Everyone Is Here and Time on Earth.
And he is capable of doing this. But perhaps he doesn't know that.
So I am challenging you, Neil Finn. I know there's another Crowded House album being readied for next year. But after that:
Prove me wrong Neil. Prove that you can create a solo masterpiece; an album as strong (stronger!) as anything you've put your name to so far. An album where you are front and centre and not hiding.
I want to hear a new Neil Finn solo album.
Don't you want to hear that too?
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