Finn is a consummate master of his craft who will always rise above the more mundane...
Chris Jones 2002
The good news is that it's a new Neil Finn album. The bad news? It seems that our Neil has fallen prey to the sin of CPI or CELEBRITY PAL INVOLVEMENT. All kinds of musical names gathered at Auckland in April, 2001 to help Neil stage a week's worth of gigs and the results reside here in CD and DVD form (Extra tracks! Backstage footage! Etc.). While Finn himself harks on about the fact that these chums came together to form a "band", one fears that this is something which approaches a vanity project. As such, it could only lead to a dilution of the raw talent that the most famous New Zealander alive undoubtedly has in spades. The guests on this release are all of a mighty calibre - Johnny Marr (Smiths), Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway (Radiohead), Lisa Germano, brother Tim and err&Eddie Vedder (a life long Split Enz fan) - yet, if this is a true band, why resort to filling the album with little more than old chestnuts dressed up as tasty new treats?
This is not to say that this is a mere exercise in ego-stroking. Talent will out and Finn's performances are always vibrant, haunting and undeniably tuneful. The man is, after all, one of the greatest writers and performers to have emerged in the last thirty years. His legacy with Split Enz and Crowded House (both represented here) is a weighty one indeed, though the highlights are mainly from his Try Whistling This period ("Loose Tongue" and "She Will Have Her Way"). Vedder gets to work his own particular magic on all the old Enz tunes. "Take A Walk" (from Split Enz's utterly classic Time And Tide album) is dispatched in suitably muscular fashion as is "I See Red", while his duet with Tim Finn on "Stuff And Nonsense" is simply gorgeous. However letting the guests all have their own little spots adds a discontinuity that a straight live album could have avoided. Neil's own rendition of The Smith's "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" hits all the right buttons however - perhaps a full covers set might have proved interesting?
So, a bit of a curate's egg from our Neil. Whether it betrays a lack of direction that the camaraderie of a genuine full-time band could provide, or just serves as a snapshot of a wonderfully warm and fuzzy week for Finn that we have access to, it matters not. Finn is a consummate master of his craft who will always rise above the more mundane aspects of corporate marketing and star-studded backslapping. For this reason alone we should always appreciate this particular antipodean.