Neil Finn has just released Dizzy Heights, his third solo album and his first since 2001. It is only when you look back at his discography that you realise just how prolific this man has been over the years.
I remember receiving a laser-etched 7″ disc of I Got You by his band Split Enz in 1980. The band were roped into the New Wave genre but were probably a little too art school rock to be described as post punk. Neil had joined his brother Tim’s band in the late 70s, which went on to have great success in Europe and America, as well as back home in New Zealand and Australia, where the song occupied the number one slot.
When the band broke up in 1984, Neil formed the highly successful Crowded House, again having worldwide hits with Weather With You, Don’t Dream It’s Over and Fall At Your Feet. All in all, he has been extraordinarily prolific, recording around 20 albums throughout his career.
The 55-year-old singer’s new album features wife Sharon on bass and sons Liam on guitar and Elroy on drums and was recorded at the studio of producer Dave Fridmann, who has twiddled the knobs for Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips in upstate New York.
The title track has some beautiful harmonies and guitar and has a slight funk edge to it, which for me is very edifying. There are lovely falsetto moments on Recluse and White Lies and Alibis, which sound like two people trying to communicate across space.
For any musician, the apprehension one feels before a new record is released is palpable. It is like sitting in limbo not knowing what to expect or wondering whether people will indeed like it. So what goes through his mind before the release of his latest work?
“It’s exciting because the record has been sitting there ready to go for a little while,” explains Neil. “It’s great to have it coming out and it was a very enjoyable record to make with Dave in New York. Songs and albums are kind of amazing because you never know the journey they are going to go on.
“Sometimes they don’t travel very far, but they turn up in the strangest of places. People who’ve been robbed and bound and gagged in the Andes and they end up in a cafe being rescued by the villagers and on the radio comes Don’t Dream It’s Over and they tell you about it two years later and how it made them feel better and everything was going to be alright. So songs go off and have a life of their own, it’s amazing.”
I actually wonder if that is a true story, it sounds far fetched enough to be.
Neil tells me about that worldwide hit, Don’t Dream It’s Over, released in 1986. “I remember that it was recorded slow, the tape was running slow for some strange reason. When it was mixed, it was slower than we actually recorded it, and we didn’t realise this until it was released and being played on the radio. So when people try and play along with it in concert pitch, they will have great difficulty in playing it, because it will sound out of tune. That’s what I remember most about that song.”
I asked Neil how it felt to be described as New Zealand’s greatest music export. “Well it’s a little out of date now because there is a young 17-year-old called Lorde, who seems to be taking the world by storm. She just may have blown me out of the water. It’s about bloody time somebody came along of the younger generation. They are an advanced species, I think there is an evolutionary jump happening.
“We are doing well at the moment; we have the winner of the Booker prize Elenaor Catton, another young New Zealand woman, with The Luminaries. We have one of the best young golfers in the world Lydia Ko. Our girls are outperforming the boys at the moment. The boys need to pull up their boot straps. There is a team talk coming, I can assure you.”
Dizzy Heights is a self assured, layered affair that will have you swooning and dreaming that you are floating in space. Neil Finn begins his UK tour on April 23rd in Glasgow, taking in Gateshead, Bristol, Salford, Birmingham, Dublin, London and Nottingham.
You can hear Pete chatting to Neil this Saturday at 10pm on Absolute Radio. Listen here.