FINN DE SIECLE
IKON - December 1995, page 69
Everywhere he goes, he always takes his brother with him. The flying FINNS find
two's a crowd.
by Peter Greenhoff
"It's just a D-minor. Lots of songs have D-minors in them," exclaims a somewhat
embarrassed Neil Finn.
Ah, but it's just not that simple, I assure him. You make it sound like the
saddest moment in the world, the moment where one person's jolly make-do facade
cracks and the grim truth floods over the surface. We're talking about Crowded
House's Weather With You, and more specifically the point at which Neil sings,
"Things ain't cooking in my kitchen/Strange affliction/Wash over me." It's the
moment where a simple pop song about coming to terms with who you are, starts to
give way to grave undercurrents. And, like in almost every song he's written,
the feeling that Something Is Not Quite Right. "Well," concludes Neil, trying
to come to terms with the foul decor of this London hotel bar, "if it makes any
difference, it's preceded by a D-minor."
Neil's elder brother of six years, Tim, is similarly enamoured of Neil's ability
to unwittingly compress all the darkest moments of Revolver into the perfect pop
song: "That's the bizarre thing about Crowded House when you consider their
live following. Neil's songs do have a melancholic or doubting strain. Yet on
stage they have this reputation for stand-up routines concerning the drummer's
haemorrhoids. Go figure."
Of course, Tim himself is no stranger to the odd canny pop trick. Since Tim and
Neil disbanded their first band, New Zealand art-pop mavericks Split Enz, Tim's
succession of exquisitely fashioned solo albums (Before and After and Big Canoe
are particularly recommended) have carved out a more solitary, nomadic persona,
hampered only by a fatal love of the opposite sex (perhaps it's something to do
with being married to Greta Scacchi).
And yet, ever since that first band split up, both seem to have spent the last
20 years looking over their shoulders wondering what the other one's up to.
How else do you explain Tim's brief period in Crowded House; then Tim's just as
sudden departure from Crowded House; then Split Enz briefly reforming for a tour
in 1993? Well, in 1995, here's the final twist in the plot: Tim and Neil
bugger off to a remote New Zealand resort, write and record an entire album in a
month - entitled Finn - which shimmers with all the glory-eyed solitude you'd
expect to find in a postcard from the end of the world. And it's absolutely
brilliant. "It's much easier for us to collaborate now," says Neil. "Way back
when we were in Split Enz, I was just the little brother in my big brother's
band, but psychologically that mentality stays with you for much longer than
just the duration of the group."
"That's right," nods his elder, between sips of English Breakfast. "I remember
when I joined Crowded House for the writing and recording of Woodface; we both
thought we'd rid ourselves of that psychological baggage, but everything flared
up in the ensuing live dates. Neil found himself feeling awkward because his
older brother was standing there. And I was standing there and I was awkward
because this time around, it was Neil's group and I was trying to find my way
"Funnily enough," interjects Neil, "I felt like I couldn't presume to talk to
the audience because I'd stepped straight back into younger-brother mode."
It's not that Finn sees Tim and Neil finally toning down their differences, so
much as allowing their individual eccentricities to surprise each other. Mood
Swinging Man bears all the hallmarks of Tim's humanistic world view, underpinned
perfectly by Neil's way with a cloistered, intimate melody; the current single
Suffer Never came about when Tim picked up on "the poetic quality of some
phrases that Neil didn't even realise he was uttering during a piano
improvisation"; and then there's Kiss The Road Of Rarotonga which rocks in a way
that Neil's far too bashful to even try: "That one," says Tim, "pretty much
sums up the spontaneity with which we made this album. Mopeds were the main
form of transport in the part of New Zealand where we were recording, and I had
an accident on my bike..."
"He was only doing about five miles per hour..." adds Neil with some relish.
"So I went to the hospital to get myself seen to, and all the nurses were
barefoot there, which was a very striking image. The first thing one of them
said to me, half-scornfully and half-flirtatiously, was, 'You kissed the road of
Rarotonga.' I had to immortalise her in song: I mean, it's just not quite the
same when you check into Middlesex General, is it?"
So how long do you think you'll stay together this time, guys?
"It's not really a question of that, this time around," ponders Neil.
"We both have our own things on the go at the moment, but this was special.
There's a long, long history that's led to this album. But the ironic thing is,
it worked because we just allowed ourselves to be young boys again."
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