ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 4, 2002
By Steve Newton
I might not be the most sensitive guy in the world—what Skynyrd-loving bozo ever could be?—but there are certain heart-rending pop songs that can get even my old throat aclenchin’. Neil Finn’s “Lullaby Requiem” is one such pensive tune. It’s included on the former Crowded House frontman’s new One All album, which, as stated in the liner notes, is “dedicated to mother Mary R.I.P.” Finn’s mom passed away before the release of the CD, and “Lullaby Requiem” comes off as something of an elegy to the recently departed.
“Goodnight, bless you,” her son gently croons, “let angels possess you/you’ll make dreams of another life. Don’t think it’s too much to close eyes and leave us/in strange places we come undone and the building blocks crash/not meant to last like a mother’s love.”
It turns out that the adored Mrs. Finn had quite a bit to do with the nurturing of Neil’s musicality—as well as that of his older brother (and former Split Enz bandmate) Tim. As young lads in the ’60s, the siblings liked nothing better than to gather round the piano with their parents for sing-alongs. “She played piano by ear, and she was Irish,” explains Neil during a call from his Auckland, New Zealand, home, “so there was always singing at the family parties. My dad was pretty passionate about music, too, so I got the fire from him and the actual ability from Mom, I think.”
Finn might also have picked up the odd influence from his bro, who would go on to cowrite such Crowded House staples as “Weather With You” and “Four Seasons in One Day”. Tim Finn makes several appearances on Neil’s other recent CD, 7 Worlds Collide, a live recording that features the likes of Eddie Vedder, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway from Radiohead, and Johnny Marr from the Smiths. At one point in the show Neil Finn pays homage to Marr’s old band with a wonderful rendition of the Smiths’ 1986 gem “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”. Hopefully he’ll pull it off again when his current band—which features violinist Lisa Germano, of John Mellencamp fame—plays the Vogue on Wednesday (July 10).
“It was always one of my favourite Smiths songs,” notes Finn, “and it was one I felt I could…you know, there’d be a lot of Smiths songs that would be very difficult for anybody else to take on, because there’s so much Morrissey character in the lyrics. ‘There Is a Light’ is still obviously very Morrissey—and [cowriter] Marr—but it’s a more universal song, I think.”
Another notable track on 7 Worlds Collide is the amped-up version of Split Enz’ 1979 single “I See Red”, featuring Finn’s son Liam on guitar and Eddie Vedder on lead vocal. So was it the Pearl Jammer’s own idea to take the mike on that one? “I’m not sure where the idea came up, exactly,” replies Finn, “but I had the notion that it would be really great entertainment to see my son’s band playing old Split Enz songs with the energy and verve that they demand, and with somebody like Eddie—who was a big Split Enz fan—singing it, it just seemed like a perfect moment on-stage. And I didn’t have to do anything!”
Although he’s based halfway around the world from here, there’s a local angle that ties Finn to our fair city. His current recordings are distributed in North America by Nettwerk America, an offshoot of Vancouver’s Nettwerk label. When scouting around last year for a company to push his music in the U.S. and Canada, Finn found that the locals had all the qualifications. “Nettwerk rose to the top through a combination of me just liking the people and the fact that they are obviously very effective at what they do,” he explains. “They’re genuine music fans, who seem to know a lot about my past—and are enthused about my future, too.”