The 2004 outing for the Finn Brothers, Everyone Is Here, was a mild disappointment by the high standards of these two extraordinary antipodeans. Over-sentimental and forced in places, it seemed that Tim cancelled out the eerie beauty inherent in Neil Finn’s music, and Neil the eccentric swagger and sonic invention in Tim’s. What they were left with was an album lacking the depth or sensuality of their solo projects, or indeed the wonderful first Finn Brothers album.
Tim is first out of the blocks after the siblings’ collaboration, with a record that overall, restores him to the form that saw Before and After (1993) and Say It Is So (1999) lauded in critical circles as underrated classics.
The two brothers are forever likened to The Beatles, and Imaginary Kingdom upholds this inevitable comparison. At its best, such as the single Couldn’t Be Done, a Radio 2 favourite, and the chirpy Midnight Coma, we have here a hybrid of George Harrison‘s All Things Must Pass album, and particularly interesting, John Lennon‘s Double Fantasy. Lennon’s record emerged from a period of domestic happiness and contentment as he turned 40. The 54 year-old Finn, now with a young family and a peaceful home life in New Zealand, seems to have, similarly, made an album reflective and wise.
That’s not to say it isn’t imaginative – there is still a singular oddity to Finn’s compositions that he retains from the heady days of Split Enz. So Precious has that familiar slow-fast, soft-loud mixture that culminates in a frantic crescendo, and Unsinkable begind with the spooky sound of a child’s muffled voice. Another essential staple of the work of either Finn is lashings of natural imagery, and here there is an Astounding Moon, a Horizon and Salt To The Sea.
But it’s not all fun listening. In March 2005 ex-Crowded House drummer Paul Hester took his own life after a long battle with depression. Dead Flowers sounds as if it could be Tim’s own ode to his lost friend: “The time that we spent together, I knew it had to end/But we could have ended better/I hope you’ve found a place where dreams get built/Only you know what it cost and what it was all for.”
There are a few duds, mainly when Finn makes attempts at writing conventional songs without the bizarre time signatures and chord changes that define his finest work. These vanilla-compositions (’twas these that dragged down Everyone Is Here), such as Resting (Your Hand Lightly) and the dull Winter Light, are something his idiosyncratic sensibilities should steer clear of. On a couple of tracks, the presence of a female soul-diva on backing vocals over-eggs things a bit more.
Generally, Imaginary Kingdom is a fine return to an intriguing solo career. He may lack the innate gifts for melody of his brother, but the curious furrow he ploughs is one that ensures his place in popular music folklore.