My challenge to you, Neil Finn...

Last updated 09:59 11/08/2009

Lift The Veil NeilI 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).

Try Whittling Them NeilYes 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?



36 comments
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Mark   #1   10:13 am Aug 11 2009

Not especially, I find his music kind of bland to be honest, whether it's group or solo material.

kylie   #2   10:21 am Aug 11 2009

Emphatically, 200%, absolutely, undeniably more than almost anything I can think of... YES! I am a fan of his entire career, love the collabs, love the bands but I don't love ANYTHING more than I love "Loose Tongue", "Twisty Bass", "Faster The Light", "Wherever You Are", "Driving Me Mad" and "Try Whistling This." Neil Finn solo albums are a masterclass in melody & poetry. Nothing else comes close...

Chip   #3   10:30 am Aug 11 2009

Having watched him in his writing process, I think this man is an amazing musician and I would love to hear more solo stuff from him.

Scott A   #4   10:37 am Aug 11 2009

Hmmm... I don't think I agree with your underlying assumption here. Don't get me wrong, I for one think 'One Nil' was a wonderful album, and of Finn's recorded output of this decade it's the one I go back to most, but I'm wondering if the reason he's working the way he is might be something other than what you're speculating about.

Look at it this way - Neil Finn has been creating some of the best music on this planet for over thirty years. Maybe it's just the muse no longer strikes him as it once did? People change over time, and maybe he just doesn't feel the basic urge to write that he once did?

And so he taps into other people other projects to keep himself excited, to keep himself involved.

Let's look again at 'One Nil'. As I said, I think it's a good album but, when you look at the subject matter of the lyrics, one can argue that perhaps his well is running a bit dry. It's an album of songs about his wife, walking his dog, or about the struggle he feels to write songs!

Given a lifetime of prolific songwriter, isn't it understandable that maybe he feels he's run out of ideas of his own that'd be strong enough to make an album out of. But working with, bouncing ideas off other people, that keeps him moving on.

I too would like to hear another Finn solo album but, here's the kicker - only if it's a good album. If instead of a poor album we just get Finn working for another five or so years bringing out the best of other people, then I'm okay with that concept.

Nathan   #5   10:49 am Aug 11 2009

The songs that worked best on the last Crowded House album were those that were going to be his solo album(the ones with the most excellent Rikki Gooch playing the drums). I would have loved to hear those songs in that state without the additional Crowded House-ness that got added to them.

Neil seems to me to revel being in a "band" environment so that all the focus isn't on him. Perhaps underneath it all he is a shy fellow. He comes across in interviews as quietly spoken. Perhaps Simon, you can have an interview with him and unlock his thoughts for us.

Big brother Tim joined Crowded House at a point when Neil had a blockage of ideas when creating Woodface(while at the same time the ideas were running free and easy when he and Tim were trying to assemble a Brothers album, and it seems that maybe the same thing happened with Time On Earth.

Perhaps he just likes having people around to help provoke ideas out of him rather than him being locked away in a house overlooking the ocean somewhere.

Whatever he does next I am hopeful it will be very very good. A Neil solo album is a good thing, One Nil is laced with good work and different ideas as was Try Whistling This.

That's my two cents worth.

ziggy   #6   10:51 am Aug 11 2009

Good call Simon. The finn's music is part of the nz soundscape - unavoidable, delightful, entrenched. I love his writing and his playing. A new album would be a 'must' for me.

Darryl   #7   10:53 am Aug 11 2009

I think if any songwriter in New Zealand has earned the right to do as he damn well pleases then it's got to be Neil Finn. I was lucky enough to play with him a number of years ago when he did a tour using pick up bands at every stop. A nicer chap would be hard to find.

I'm not sure it's too relevant who he collaborates with. Solo he would likely have to have a group of talented session musicians in the studio anyway, and I get the feeling he would approach that situation with an open mind. If you look at the people that helped out on One Nil it's a pretty heavy list (Jim Keltner, Michel Froom, Tchad Blake, Sheryl Crow) and nearly half the songs are co writes.

si   #8   10:54 am Aug 11 2009

A solo album would be nice - One Nil was an underrated album. But I would rather see another Crowded House album because I think Time On Earth is the only album Neil has made that is amazing all the way through. And it was pretty much a solo album. His best solo album.

Dino   #9   10:58 am Aug 11 2009

It would be great but also I think that sometimes you think too much. Do you have a psych degree?

Danny   #10   11:01 am Aug 11 2009

Like you Simon, I love some of his songwriting, I love the heartfelt delivery of some of them (especially "Into Temptation"), and i know i can't write songs anywhere the ability of Neil, which makes me feel a little uneasy when I criticise. However, we are all entitled to our opinions, so here is mine! I have found that with the early Crowded House albums, I loved half the songs, and didn't care much for the rest. The love for some of those early songs certainly outweighed my dislike of the others, so i have always been a fan. I love it when Neil writes "songs", as opposed to crafting recordings, if that makes sense. Some of his most beautiful songs are so simple, or seemingly simple e.g. Four Seasons In One Day, It's Only Natural, Better Be Home Soon, She Will Have Her Way etc. I would love to hear an album of him, his guitar, and the occasional other instruments when appropriate. Something like the final few Johnny Cash albums maybe?


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