Dizzy Heights

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 24, 2014

Dizzy Heights

Former (and future?) Crowded House frontman Neil Finn has had quite the career so far. He started off with older brother Tim's band Split Enz in the early '80s then moved on to found Crowded House in the mid-'80s.

He made a couple more CDs with Tim (in 1996 and again in 2008; and that's not counting the 1991 Crowded House album "Woodface," which drew Tim into the band's lineup), re-formed Crowded House after more than a decade for a pair of acclaimed CDs in the mid-to-late aughts, and then spearheaded the "Seven Worlds Collide" albums with a passel of his musically inclined pals.

Finn stayed up late with wife Sharon for 2011's "Pajama Club," dabbled in music for movies and various other projects (including a track for the soundtrack to the first "Hobbit" movie), and now he's back with a solo project called "Dizzy Heights."

If he's dizzy, you can hardly blame him: After all, he's been a musical whirling dervish, hopping all over the place. Musically, too, he's stretched in all sorts of directions, from the deep dark pleasures of 1999's "Try Whistling This" to a little-known (in the U.S.) 2013 team-up with Paul Kelly titled "Goin' Your Way," in which the two jammed on their own (and one another's) material.

"Dizzy Heights" uncorks like a bottle of something from a very late 1960s vintage, and opens up into something more modern, though a retro-feel persists. "Dizzy Heights" could have come right off one of the "Crowded House" revival CDs, which had a laid-back 1970 vibe. The song also possesses a bright, lacquer-like character, hard and smooth, something it has in common with the songs from Finn's sophomore solo effort, "One Nil," from 2001 (re-released in the States, after some tinkering, as "One All" in 2002).

"Flying in the Face of Love" is cut from this same cloth; it's a little psychedelic, and propulsively driven. "Dive Bomber," however, is where Neil gets really weird and retro, keening away over the sound of a cashing plane and military drums. It's as though he went to sleep one night and woke up as Roger Waters in the morning. (Even here, there are antecedents: in its forlorn, remote isolation, this track reminds the listener of "A Sigh," from 2007's Crowded House CD "Time on Earth.")

This isn't so much a misstep as an indulgence, though, and Finn instantly rights the ship with "Better Than TV," the album's first real gripper, with layers of rhythm stretched tight over a colorful melodic pastiche.

From there it's a stretch of pop tunes: "Pony Ride," cantors along, topped by almost ethereal vocals; the quiet, Polynesian-influenced "White Lies and Alibis" incorporates a dark atmosphere and sinister sound effects. Make "White Lies and Alibis" deeper, darker and muddier, and it could have fit right in with the tracks on "Try Whistling This."

"Recluse" is standard Neil Finn: Sprightly, slightly '60s in its love of harmonizing vocals (and very reminiscent of his second album with Tim Finn, 2008's "Everyone Is Here"), and wracked with mid-life angst. Similarly, "Strangest Friends" has a lively pop structure built on guitar and percussion, and a bright melody threaded with chilly, fretful undercurrents. "In My Blood" follows the same formula, to wonderful effect; it's one of the CD's strongest offerings, and the first that ripens to the ear as a fresh Finn classic.

"Lights of New York" closes out the set; it's a maundering, muttering complaint of a song that tugs at you like the lapping of a river's edge, possessed of a sweet near-lullaby. What a way to finish: You're ready to hit replay and get folded right back into this CD's slightly sinister, vaguely weird, texturally interesting universe.

"Dizzy Heights" by Neil Finn
Lester Records

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.