An open letter to Neil Finn

22:00, Jun 24 2010

Dear Neil,

So I've been listening to Intriguer, the new album released under the name Crowded House. I've been listening to it quite a bit; more than I would have liked to. I've been trying to find some depth, some layers. And there are none.

I know that it has become almost secretly fashionable to hate the output of the Finns - I don't do that. I still value a lot of the material released under the names Split Enz, Tim Finn, Crowded House, Neil Finn, Alt, Finn, Finn Brothers and 7 Worlds Collide (the first time round).

But this new album is the worst thing to have the Neil Finn name on it - well worst equal with this album, but I guess the can really has to be carried this time as it's primarily the work of Neil Finn. That one had the famous friends to share the blame.

I think Neil is hiding behind the Crowded House name - and I know I've said this before - but I really do think that's the case. And Intriguer is the proof; it's not a real Crowded House album, it's not even as good as the first reunion album, Time on Earth. At least that one had a couple of good songs. This one has nothing that is memorable. Well, nothing good. The memorable bits are the ropey ideas, the lazy rhymes, the hackneyed pop-rock songwriting. Neil Finn sounds like someone covering Neil Finn; someone trying to be Neil Finn. And as a result Intriguer sounds like something between a Neil Finn album and a Crowded House album.

Most disappointing is the fact that the songs just feel like song-ideas.


And, actually worse than that, most of the ideas sound so obviously pilfered - as if, bereft of ideas, one of the world's great pop songwriters (when on form) has had to create his version of a Wilco tune (half a dozen times). And Archer's Arrows sounds like a Tim Finn song that has been born of too much listening to Florence + The Machine in an attempt to be hip. It feels like diet-Kate Bush and not in the occasionally good way that happens via the likes of Florence and Bat For Lashes.

Also, I see Linda - sorry, that was, er, My Mistake, Sharon - is, well, I guess you would call it singing. Why is she suddenly further crowding the house? Bizarre.

I get that Crowded House was re-formed to pay tribute to Paul Hester; that's admirable. And I get that from there you'd want to maybe release one album - which happened and was okay. It gave the fans a few new songs to expect and it helped with the excuse of the Grieving World Tour, paying respects to Paul Hester in the only appropriate way: scooting around the world collecting revenue with a new drummer.

But really - I think that Crowed House album was created, mostly, because there wasn't the confidence for a Neil Finn solo album - and/or there had not been the expected acceptance globally of the two Finn solo albums that had happened. What I'm saying is Neil Finn re-formed Crowded House to hide behind; knowing more people would buy the product and see the show with that promise of quality, that extension of the brand.

It would pay, in all senses of that wor, that the product then delivered.

This new album is a joke. A sadly unfunny joke. A very pedestrian set of rock ideas.

There would seem to be a logic in New Zealand that anything Neil Finn releases is a four-star album. I certainly used to believe that a bad Neil Finn song was still better than a lot of good songs by other, lesser, songwriters. And I know I was not alone in that thought. I can't deny that Crowded House was - at one point - a good band. A very good band. Though, let's be honest (the very intention of this letter) the band only really had one great album. The other albums were all patchy. The good bits were great, but some bits really just grated.

And there have been great Neil Finn songs elsewhere, both before and after Crowded House. But it would seem, with the release of Intriguer (an album that is not at all intriguing, unless someone out there has a curiosity that draws them to the bland and perfunctory), that it is proof, for now, that Neil Finn The Songwriter is tapped out. The blank canvas should have - and basically has - stayed blank.

Neil Finn - as Crowded House - has released a two-star album. Nothing more and often a lot less than that would seem.

It might be a sad day for New Zealand music - or it might be the start of some very good days. It might be time for people who have decided that all things Finn must always be good to branch out and to look past that particular family tree.

The lyrics on Intriguer are often embarrassing: stuff about having the day off and going to see Van Gogh, promises to take us (the listeners) to a higher place and then presenting another boring plodder off a moody pop-rock template. This is cookie-cutter stuff. But remember when Neil Finn took on the pedestrian and shaped it? Sure you do. There's nothing at all special about the words "I don't know why sometimes I get frightened"; they would, for instance, never be recommended in a songwriting symposium. But they worked - because Neil Finn was able, back then, to marry them to a hook, to create a mood, a feel.

This new set of songs is sad, slightly stroppy, mostly lazy. And like 90 per cent of music that gets released it is little more than an idea that never quite saw the correct completion but was released anyway.

I won't be giving this album four stars just to stay in favour with the Neil Finn fans, with the New Zealand music industry that seems to cower and tremble at the thought that you could possibly not like a Finn album - and I won't be giving it a silly one-star rating so that non-thinking Finn haters can have a cheap chuckle.

I'm giving this album two stars. Because that's what it is worth. Just.

Yours truthfully,
Simon Sweetman

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