Neil Finn Reaches Dizzy Heights
“I want to sink into the atmosphere,” sings Neil Finn, the near desperation in his delivery heightened by the eerie swell of strings, guitar stabs, harmony backing vocals creating a bed from which the lyrics leap. The track in question is ‘Impressions’, the opener to Finn’s newest release, Dizzy Heights, his first solo outing since One Nil in 2001. It’s a record which sees the man in ebullient form, investigating different avenues, looking for something new.
It’s also a record which explores the theme of height, or ascension, a fascination with the aforementioned atmosphere. Songs with titles like ‘Flying In The Face Of Love’, ‘Divebomber’, the title of the record itself, all suggest an affinity with moving up, with being above things, soaring high on velvet wings.
“It’s not a concept record at all, but there is more of a thread running through it than I’ve had on previous records,” Finn confesses on a theme that came about almost accidentally, something he quickly latched onto: “I decided to acknowledge it rather than just keep it as a sub-agenda that nobody knew about.
“And I’m not the sort of writer that has a clear narrative running through my songs… I like to leave a few doors open, let people find things in their own way and interpret things in their own way. But on the other hand, it’s quite good to give people a bit of a leg up, so I’ve done that a bit more this time.”
Dizzy Heights is a record which has, understandably, been a long time coming for Finn. Since One Nil, he’s been involved in a myriad projects, from a second Finn Brothers record (Everyone Is Here in 2004, with brother Tim), to Pajama Club with wife Sharon, releasing an eponymous record in 2011, not to mention the reformation and subsequent release of two records with the iconic Crowded House. And yet the idea of another solo record wasn’t something which consumed Finn during this almost decade and a half.
“I [didn’t] want to underplay it, or overplay it in my mind, because I don’t really think about it that much,” he concurs. “There’s impetus for making music always, and people say it’s been 14 years since the last solo release, and that surprises me too, it doesn’t feel that long. But it also doesn’t feel that making other records is in any way less of an intense experience, from a writing point of view, from seeing it through.
“There are collaborators at every stage, and there are collaborators with a solo record as well, so in some ways it’s just a different condition but the process is very similar, the name on the record just ends up being different. So I don’t dwell on that one too much.”
Something he had thought about was how the record would come together. As he writes in the press material which accompanies Dizzy Heights, he didn’t want it to be a stripped back, “singer-songwriter” record. “I was aware that that was something that I could do, and would almost be expected of me… [but] that was less interesting to me, at the moment,” he explains.
“I love pop music, first and foremost, and I love it when it’s got an element about it that’s mysterious, you’re not quite sure how they put that together… and it carried with it a challenge to myself; it would be easy to settle into being extremely tasteful and sensitive, and I’m resistant to that. I’m trying to make sure I don’t get too cosy.”
He goes on to say, with a hint of a smile, that he’s also entertaining the idea of doing, for his next album, a collection of songs revolving around just him and a piano. “I’ve reserved the right to completely contradict myself, from album to album,” he laughs.
While Dizzy Heights may not be cosy for Finn, in a sonic sense it’s the epitome of, wreathed as it is in layers of warm, atmospheric sound. Working with wife Sharon (bass), and sons Liam (guitar) and Elroy (drums), along with string arrangements by Victoria Kelly and production from Dave Fridmann, (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips), Finn has crafted something different – given his experience and the relative freedom that comes with that, it’s not really a surprise.
“You have a bunch of songs that you’ve attached yourself to, you want to see them expand and become more, well, everything really,” he says on how he wanted the album to come together, what his MO was. “You know, give them more weight, more feeling, more flair, more colour. Mainly, making them step out, not having them sound too much like ‘shut away in your bedroom’ type of thing.”
“And Dave is really good at recognising sonic fuel, and allowing it to exist and making it fit,” Finn expands, referencing producer Fridmann’s contribution to the warm, cosy sounds that permeate the record. “And he was a good editor too, you can make a lot of good, spontaneous noises and sounds for a long period of time, but Dave is fantastic at wading in there and going, ‘Like that, like that, don’t like that, don’t like that’, and just building something, and he’ll play it back to you, and you go, ‘You’ve picked about all the best things I could have imagined’. He’s got a very well organised mind.”
“We’re ascending higher and higher each day / There’s no turning back,” Finn falsettos on ‘Divebomber’, a line that basically describes the making of the album, his career as a whole, and his want and need to continually move on, still learning after all these years. “I’m trying to take control over the whole process, understand the whole process of music making and record making,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s a really great mystery, and it’ll always be a mystery, but I feel now I’m on the verge of being able to direct my attention in a very focused way.”
Samuel J. Fell