“Out of Silence” is an album of intimacy created out of perhaps the most non-intimate of circumstances. Neil Finn rehearsed and cut his fourth studio recording in a series of August sessions that were streamed online for the world to witness. But the results, for a number of reasons, aren’t what you would anticipate.
First of all, “Out of Silence” shares neither the design or intent of a work by Crowded House, the famed Australian/New Zealander band that served, on and off, as the primary vehicle for Finn’s extraordinary sense of pop songcraft for the past three decades. But Crowded House was a rock outfit. The music on “Out of Silence” is stripped down to an elemental level of dark melancholy. Only two of its 10 tunes contain drums. Instead, piano, strings and the gorgeously grey luster of Finn’s voice and words orchestrate an album of — and there is no other way to describe it — adult pop. Not adult in the seedy sense of the term, but rather in the ways the stories center on long-term romance, personal and global unrest and a general sense of aged uneasiness, all of which Finn paints with a learned pop finesse. The resulting music is graceful and contemplative, even during the plentiful moments when the lyrics turn dour.
The album’s overriding feel of uncertainty is most clearly displayed as the more soul-directed extremes of Finn’s high tenor vocals emerge out of a hushed backdrop of vibraphone, piano and choir-like chants on “Chameleon Days,” one of the few moments when the ghost of Crowded House appears (but one that recalls the band’s more somber works from “Temple of Low Men” and “Together Alone” as opposed to its poppier fare). “Anyone could tell that it’s out of your hands,” he sings. “God is rolling numbers while you’re making a plan.”
“Widow’s Peak,” on the other hand, is a more exacting requiem, as a stroll becomes a jarring remembrance of wars fought in earlier times on the same soil (“You can smell the blood buried under my feet”).
“Out of Silence” opens and closes with different meditations on love tested and tempered by time. “Love is Emotional” quietly embraces and accepts, through a luscious but tasteful string arrangement, a level of uncertainty that doesn’t fade with the years. “That’s alright,” Finn sings. “I never seem to work out how it ends.” The album-ending “I Know Different” is more fragile, using sea imagery to affirm steadfast emotions in the face of a marriage sailing to an uncharted port (“I surrender to the future, but I won’t be taken prisoner”).
How strange that Finn would let the world in on the making of “Out of Silence,” considering the pop reflections it contains sound like they were conjured with the blinds drawn in a house curiously uncrowded.