Crowded House frontman and successful solo artist Neil Finn never backs down from a challenge. His legendary career has revealed an inspired and erudite songwriter able to convey his inner most emotions and wry observations about life. He has displayed these talents over the length of his tenure with the bands Split Enz and Crowded House in addition to his solo career. To keep things interest Finn recently set himself a challenge, to perform and record an album over the span of about 6 weeks. Additional he decided to stream the recording sessions live over Facebook every Friday in August. The recording process culminated with a super session on August 25th. He would include friends and family, along with Classical and studio session musicians to complete the task. Then at lightning speed, he released the completed album on September 1st. The result of this singular challenge is his fourth solo outing “Out of Silence”. Some would describe this unique process as a PR stunt, but that description holds little water as the recording technology delivers a well-crafted intimate offering.
“Out of Silence” follows Finn’s 2014 solo release “Dizzy Heights”, his third solo recording and a very different entity compared to the latest release. Where “Dizzy Heights” was stretching stylistically beyond Finn’s extensive palette of songwriting, “Out of Silence” returns to trademark Finn craftsmanship. Because of the speed of the recording process the songs develop out of what Finn does best, crafting tender songs that harken to his vast musical tenure. The songs like many of Finn’s prior creations were first composed on the piano.
His decision to record the new album this way was inspired by his long held desire to as he states, “… do an album in one go.” To enable this to occurrence he recruited choral backing singers, a chamber orchestra, his wife Sharon, his sons Elroy and Liam and his brother Tim. He set up the live sessions at Roundhouse Studios in New Zealand. Victoria Kelly conducted and arranged the chamber orchestra contributions for the sessions. In order to meet the deadline for final production Finn also relied on his sons and two engineers who along with him working as he described as, “hell for leather” to finish. The post studio work was in itself a herculean feat considering it can take artists months and years to often finish producing an album. The difficulty of the task makes its completion an accomplishment. It also forced Finn to strip himself of his tendencies to obsess over songs seeking perfection.
“Out of Silence” presents songs that are engaged in a serious think. The themes that play out throughout the album touch on love, war, terrorism, chaos, doubt and depression. To counterbalance the dark subjects Finn as usual displays his exceptional ability to provide a sense of triumphant upbeat that helps lighten the mood. He has never shied away from displaying his thoughts on life’s inherent pathos but showing it to its best advantage. “Out of Silence” is Finn in his wheelhouse creating sublime music that feeds the soul. He desires something better from mankind all the while acknowledging perfection is outside of society’s grasp. The 10 songs are on the brief side which corresponds with the demands of the unique recording situation. But that brevity makes for immediate impact. The opener “Love is Emotional” begins a sonic template for most of the songs with a gorgeous piano ballad enhanced by strings. The track suggests love is our ultimate goal but is not always a stabilizing force; there are fear and beauty contained in the emotion that is love.
The major highlights of the album are “Chameleon Days and Independence Day”. Chameleon Days” examines our desire to fit in and also how out of control our lives are emphasized by the lyric, “ any one can tell you it is out of our hands, God is rolling numbers while we’re making our bets.” The use of the choir builds the drama and it is a very satisfying offering. “Independence Day” utilizes an acoustic guitar to construct a wondrous atmospheric sound. The song speaks to our constant distraction, our inability to see the forest for the trees which stretch for a life time described in the lyric, “It’s hard to hear thunder when the river is raging.” Finn questions of ageing and the threat of our demise finally make us value what is truly important. He is searching for his legacy before he “disappears without a trace.” This is some ponderous stuff but Finn handles it with a deft touch not letting anything get too morose or preachy.
Throughout the release, there is an aching lush beauty. As the recording nears the final songs Finn shares some of his strong opinions on where we as a civilization stand. On the piano ballad “Widow’s Peak” the narrator is haunted by the violence of past history at a location, “You could smell the blood that was shed under my feet’. The song concludes with an anti war song. “Second Nature” has a fuller band feeling that reminds me of Crowded House’s “Intriguer” and calls out the hipster culture. On this track, for almost the first time the drums become more obvious.
Whether you agree with the premise of “The Law is Always on Your Side”, which takes as its topic excessive police violence, it is an undoubtedly powerful track. This gospel tinged selection is a “do not miss” song which has Finn placing the listener in the shoes of those trapped in a no win situation. “Terrorize Me” was inspired by the Paris Bataclan terrorist attack. This evocative selection looks at the foolishness of attempting to be heard by using violence on random victims. It also examines how it backfires on those who perform these heinous acts. Finn points out those performing these acts are not winning the argument by continuing this madness but are simply turning people against them. The Final track is “I Know Different” which is illuminated with Finn’s gained wisdom. He takes to task those who see our doom as imminent. The song speaks to the better angels of our nature and identifies that they are there to fight the evil of the world. He also stresses the importance of not forgetting hope as we face our generation’s challenges. “I Know Different” is a song of hope against the stacked odds. Finn stands athwart to the forgone accepted wisdom and conclusions of the naysayers. The track is a powerful sendoff for an extraordinary release.
With “Out of Silence” we get Neil Finn’s distilled brilliance and musical craftsmanship. On the release he many times spins unmitigated unattractiveness into spectacular awed beauty. Kudos go to Finn and Co for this inspired effort which is a major accomplishment when considering the time constraints of the recording process. “Out of Silence” is a must for fans of Neil Finn in his numerous manifestations and a strong introduction for unfamiliar listeners to his excellent songwriting abilities.