Out There

Tim Finn
Say It Is So
(Sonny's Pop Records)

Split Enz was kind of a mess before the younger Finn, Neil, joined up and dragged big brother's art-school band into pop land. The elder Finn, Tim, had up to that point driven New Zealand's most aggressive export on equal parts experimentation and buried brilliance; young Neil's aesthetic was merely a focused, smoother version of Tim's. Sure enough, Neil's (somewhat dark) Lennon-McCartney-tinged songcraft pushed Split Enz from Down Under obscurity onto the pop charts, and just in time for the launch of MTV.

Neil went on to front Crowded House, and both the band and its songwriter enjoyed far more spotlight than the eccentric Tim's sporadic solo outings. Tim joined Crowded House for its Woodface album and tour of 1991, but rumors of creative strife brought that sibling reunion to a premature halt, only to be picked up again in 1996 with Neil's first post-Crowded House project, a brother-driven album (never released stateside) titled simply Finn Brothers. It was a wistful, mostly beautiful album, but instead of ensuring further collaboration, it merely gave way to Neil's nascent solo career (on which the jury is still out) and Tim's return to autonomy. Say It Is So, Tim Finn's fourth and newest solo album (with nary a Neil on board), somehow pulls together all this history and more.

Within its 11 songs, you hear decades' worth of industry experience, sibling-fueled inspiration and discovery, and vacillations between unyielding artistic adventure and a wiser understanding of the need to connect with an actual audience. In true Finn form, the CD unravels with lush melodies, belly-stroking textures, hope-springs-eternal lyrics and harmonies, and a misfire or two. "Need to Be Right" kicks off with lumpy roots-rock unlikeliness, yet it more than once settles into a satisfyingly swirling chorus. And while the endearing "Roadtrip" sometimes threatens to derail under forced techno-sampling, "Currents" captures the Finn sound at its purest, piercing best. Recorded in Nashville and employing a host of contributors (including Wilco's Ken Coomer), there are moments here well worth the price of the disc and the time to listen to it. But it doesn't hurt to have a "fast-forward" option whenever big brother gets too stodgy or early-Endzish.

If anything, Say It Is So has managed to level the playing field between two brother-songwriters, a field that up until now has always favored the younger player. Sad thing is, this leveling is as much about the fans not caring anymore as it is about a noble and parallel evolution of talent.

Christina Rees


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