“Oh God. Not another singer/songwriter. Endlessly whining about his lost love. Well, I’m not surprised. Shave off that bloody beard for one thing, scruffbag. Oh, and what’s that? He’s Neil Finn’s son? Neil ‘Crowded House’ Finn? Hah, well, I wonder how he got his record deal then…”
That could well be your first reaction on seeing Liam Finn, and let’s face it, it would be understandable. There are far more earnest young male singers with guitars than we need at the moment, and the fact that this one may have benefited from some form of nepotism may well prompt some people to look at Finn with a great deal of cynicism.
However, that would be to overlook a major new talent. I’ll Be Lightning is a superb debut album, made all the more impressive that Finn apparently played all the instruments here himself. While he’s obviously inherited Finn Snr’s gift for a melodic tune and memorable chorus, there’s enough experimentation and abstract noises to keep him from being a daytime Radio 2 staple.
Musically, it’s all over the place, in the best possible way. Plaintive ballads such as Gather To The Chapel sit comfortably next to fuzzy, buzzy pop of Lead Balloon. There’s also Elliott Smith style overdubbed vocals on Lullaby, some White Album-era Beatles soundalike on Music Moves My Feet and wistful folk on Wide Awake On The Voyage Home (featuring the lovely bittersweet line “tell me love isn’t real, is this just a trick to procreate”). As you can tell, pretty difficult to pigeonhole.
Vocally, there are inevitably similarities to Neil Finn (in fact, at times you could swear that you’re listening to a maverick Crowded House spin-off project), but there’s enough of Finn Jnr’s own personality in there as well. As for his lyrics, he’s proving to be a dab hand at sorrowful, melancholic lines like “remember when the telephone went dead, and we couldn’t connect to each other like we used to”.
Finn’s talent lies in creating music that may not immediately grab you, but after a few listens, they’ll come back to you at the strangest times. Maybe you’ll be humming a line in the queue at the Post Office, or finding a chorus creeping into your head first thing in the morning. It’s the sort of album which, when sat and actually listened to, conjures up all manner of rewards.
Take Second Chance for instance, which starts off wistfully with just Finn and an guitar riff. After a couple of minutes, the drums kick in and we’re rocking out. Then, at the end, Finn throws in some odd little keyboard effects that lead the song out during the last minute. The fact that Finn plays all these instruments himself makes it all the more impressive.
Then there’s quieter moments such as Remember When which perfectly encapsulates a decaying relationship (“I was waiting for someone else to blame”), while the only bad thing about Gather To The Chapel is that it could well be overused in the next year or so as TV drama’s stock ‘emotional music’ – that area that Coldplay seem to have sown up at the moment.
If there’s a quibble about the album, it’s that it doesn’t quite demonstrate the raw power of Finn’s live performances – where, accompanied only by backing vocalist EJ Barnes, he uses guitar, drums and loop pedals to create something quite extraordinary. For proof, have a look on YouTube for his performance of Second Chance on Letterman a few months ago.
Yet generally, this is a perfect introduction to the talent of Liam Finn – and even at 14 tracks, it never outstays its welcome. Some may baulk at yet another singer/songwriter joining the ranks, but there’s a lot more to Finn than the common or garden singer/songwriter.