Critic's pick: Neil Finn, 'Dizzy Heights'

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 10, 2014 

Near the midway point of his first solo album in 13 years, Dizzy Heights, Neil Finn offers an affirmation that is both earthy and spiritual.

It surfaces, over and over again, in Better Than TV, a love song of real life wrapped in an orchestral wash of sounds and grooves but presented in a slightly askew posture. It's as if the pop strategies that so beautifully populated the music he has crafted over the decades with Crowded House were tossed in a washing machine so colors would bleed into one another.

Fascinating as the surface design is, it's the meditation that Finn, 55, places underneath it all that best defines the restlessness of an enormously prolific middle-age popster from New Zealand. It's a plea for risk-taking as a means to personal discovery at an age when one's surroundings can often seem strangely settled.

"If there is a chance that you wanted to dance, that you wanted to sing, don't die wondering," Finn sings. It's a lovely but unobvious moment on an album filled with them.

Finn co-produced Dizzy Heights with Dave Fridmann, whose studio credits include work with The Flaming Lips. That might partly explain the kind of pop turf the record favors. It is nowhere near as extravagant as the Lips' costumed psychedelia, but Dizzy Heights has a lush pop sensibility that isn't so much orchestrated as it is submerged.

On the album-opening song Impressions, a fractured melody oozes along to keep solemn pace with a story line of civilization in decline ("I guess we can't keep the world away, from sinking under pressure"). The mood later slows to a glacial grace on Divebomber, with Finn singing in a ghostly, nocturnal falsetto.

The pop charge is more direct during In My Blood, a Crowded House-like reverie with a decidedly familial feel. Wife Sharon Finn, with sons Liam and Elroy, help out, as they do for much of the record, on bass, guitar and drums, respectively. Wilco drummer and University of Kentucky grad Glenn Kotche then provides percussion for the family band.

But that is one of Dizzy Heights' more accessible moments. Much of the record has a more wintry feel (it was recorded in Buffalo, N.Y., and Auckland) and is a collage of neo-psychedelic snapshots. Shifting from demo-style immediacy to icy, surrealistic splendor, Dizzy Heights is a tasty document fashioned by a proven pop family man after slipping out of the House.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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