At what point did Neil Finn become our Paul McCartney?
He had some initial success with Split Enz before hitting the dizzying critical and commercial heights of Crowded House with their exceptional catalogue. But then it all started to go a bit wrong… We were put through some underwhelming solo albums before the mediocre money-grubbing Crowded House reunion. Then there were the collaborations (‘The Sun Came Out’ for Oxfam and ‘Goin’ Your Way’ with Paul Kelly where they revisited each others’ hits). There have been brief glimpses of his glories in his album ‘Everyone Is Here’ with brother Tim as the Finn Brothers and occasional tracks from his solo output (’She will have her way’ or ‘Into the sunset’) but since the end of the original Crowded House lineup, it’s been a very dry spell creatively and has seen him coasting McCartney-style on his former glories.
So we arrive at 2014. 21 years after his last great, essential album in Crowded House’s ‘Together Alone’ and 10 years after his last good album with ‘Everyone Is Here’. The drought unfortunately is set to continue with ‘Dizzy Heights’ and may even last longer. At its worst, ‘Dizzy Heights’ comes across as an 80’s pastiche filled with some of Finn’s most ludicrous and contrived lyrics. At its best there are a couple of moments where you are reminded of Finn’s sublime talent for harmonies. Unfortunately, there are so few of these it leaves the majority of the album lacking direction and feeling wholly forgettable.
‘Better Than TV’ and ‘Pony Ride’ fall into the lyrical trap McCartney has been caught in far too many times during his solo career. Pretentious wordiness is not an endearing quality in itself and when the songs lack Finn’s normally sublime harmonies, this is all too apparent. ‘Recluse’ does feature some of Finn’s trademark harmonies but even these aren’t enough to counteract the ludicrous lyrical combinations referring to ‘Watching Game of Thrones’ and when ‘Jesus had a gun’.
Early tracks ‘Impressions’ and ‘Flying in the face of love’ fail to reach anything beyond mediocrity. The same could be said for the meandering final track, ‘Lights of New York’ if it weren’t for the overwhelming feeling of honesty on this track (sadly an anomaly on ‘Dizzy Heights). Fortunately, towards the end of the album there is some redemption as Finn returns to his comfort zone with ‘In My Blood’ and discovers a bit of grit on the rocky, ‘Strangest Friends’.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Finn got wrong here but it’s almost impossible to pinpoint anything that he got right. The orchestration overwhelms the vocals, his usually universally resonant lyrics are missing and (as with much of his solo work), the absence of his trademark harmonies hurts this collection of songs a lot. By Whatever the reason, there is little to like on this album that feels like it’s trying a bit too hard and strays a bit too far from its writer’s strengths.