LOS ANGELES — A lyric from the title track from New Zealand rocker Neil Finn’s new solo album, Dizzy Heights, crystallizes much of what the erstwhile member of Crowded House, Split Enz, and the Finn Brothers is up to on his latest work.
“Help me make up a new sound,” he sings, and indeed, much of what he’s created for Dizzy Heights embodies that idea with spacious aural landscapes and often exotic arrangements surrounding lyrics that delve into a multiplicity of emotions.
It’s often a far cry from the Beatle-esque pop with which Finn built his reputation as one of the finest songwriters of the 1980s and ’90s.
“I wanted to take what I perceived as new angles in the songs, and take them as far as I could, and at the same time take somebody else’s perspective who I admire,” Finn, 55, said during a recent swing through Los Angeles in which he previewed several of the new songs.
That “somebody else” is Dave Fridmann, who co-produced the album with Finn. Fridmann, known for producing works by groups such as the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, helped Finn develop the more expansive sonic atmosphere that is a key part of Dizzy Heights.
There’s also a more pronounced R&B-soul feel to many of the songs, something Finn says he’s been increasingly interested in exploring. Combined with lush string arrangements by Victoria Kelly, with whom Finn first collaborated on "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
“Another reason for the strings is that I love that sort of Barry White Love Serenade sound,” Finn said. “I’m not drawing too many parallels because it’s nothing like that. But I do love those records with that sort of atmosphere.”
He said that sound began to emerge with Impressions, the first track he started working on for the new album that features his wife, Sharon, and two of their children, Liam and Elroy.
“That seemed to have a very different atmosphere, kind of a slow R&B thing going on, which I’ve always had lurking as an undercurrent,” he said. “Even if you go back to (Crowded House’s 1987 breakthrough hit), Don’t Dream It’s Over, I remember at the time, that song got played on some of the urban stations, which was really surprising to me — in hindsight, maybe not so much, because it’s got an underpinning of soul.”
"Divebomber" is one of several tracks in which Finn takes his light sandpaper voice into the vocal stratosphere, eliciting memories of Barry Gibb’s work with the Bee Gees.
“I don’t mind that (comparison),” he said with a smile. “I liked the Bee Gees when I was a kid.”
In an era in which any band with two or three hits seems to be able to carve out a living on the reunion circuit, Finn would have plenty of opportunities to cash in. For now, though, Finn says those outfits are “all parked in the garage. With Crowded House, I’m not sure — at some point there’ll be a good reason to do it. At the moment, it’s in a pretty good place and I’m really happy about the fact we made it into a living entity again, it felt like the right thing to do.” (The reunited Crowded House played the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in 2007.)
As for the whole cottage industry of reunion tours, Finn said, “First, there’s nothing wrong with people doing it. The fact of the matter is a lot of people didn’t make any money the first time round. So good luck to them — why not?”