The family home of New Zealand rock royalty, Neil Finn, is on the market. His two boys have long moved out and it seems that he and his wife Sharon no longer have need of the big house.
No doubt there are many happy memories in the home —experiences of family, fellowship, love and community. These are things that are important to Finn and they can be seen across his oeuvre. There’s probably scope for several columns looking at sometime Catholic Finn’s life and work through a Catholic lens, but today let’s look at just one album that says a lot about whanau and community in its genesis, recording and content.
Seven Worlds Collide is a live album made up of recordings taken from a five-night run of shows by Neil Finn and a collection of friends and family. Joining him on stage were his son Liam and brother Tim along with longtime friends Lisa Germano, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, Radiohead’s Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien and Soul Coughing’s Sebastien Steinberg. Finn told The Guardian newspaper: “With a really strong will, you can become a band,” and it’s clear this “supergroup” made the most of a short but intense time of rehearsal before the shows.
The album kicks off without fuss, launching straight into Anytime from Finn’s brilliant second solo album One Nil. The song is about accepting the reality that we’ll all die someday: “I could go at anytime / There’s nothing safe about this life / . . . The days are flying past / . . . But I’m not afraid to laugh.”
And laugh, he does: Finn has spoken of the shows as being five nights of “charms and delights” which had “a certain joyfulness”. There’s a real sense of fun and friendship as the band make music together and as they trade banter between songs.
Finn’s sense of humour has always been one of his trademarks as a performer and on this album his droll wit comes through. However, another trademark is Finn’s willingness — and ability, a sure touch — to explore deeper themes and difficult issues. Anytime has this balance of lightness and depth and is an effective opening track.
Take a Walk is next, with Eddie Vedder contributing vocals in a foot-to-the-floor version of an old Split Enz track. Two more songs from Finn’s solo output follow, then a song from Johnny Marr, who plays with his own band these days after many years with superstar Morrissey.
Sometimes these kind of collaborative albums are a mish-mash of styles and objectives, but Marr’s voice and his song sit alongside the Finn material seamlessly.
Halfway through is Turn and Run: one of my favourite Finn songs. “Turn and run / You cold killers of innocence / Against us there’s no defence / . . . You can’t break our love.” It soars in a hands-aloft joyous story of hope and lasting love.
“With great pleasure I invite my brother Tim onto the stage,” Finn says in introduction to Edible Flowers. Apparently the brothers grew up singing around the piano together as a family and that sense of fraternal love is evident here. Edible Flowers is a slow piano-driven song about the inevitable passing of time and the challenge to make the most of life in all its messiness. “Who owns that space / Declare it if you dare tonight” sings Neil and Tim follows with, “All the trash and the treasure / All the pain and the pleasure”. The performance points up the rough edges of the album when the brothers’ harmonies sometimes miss each other, but this roughness is a strength rather than a weakness. A family sing along like this aims not for note-perfect renditions of recordings but to capture the heart of the tunes.
Eddie Vedder sings the Split Enz song Stuff and Nonsense next. I’ve always found this song a real earworm, which is a bit of a problem as in its resistance to wholehearted commitment in a relationship — “You know that I love you / . . . not forever / I can give you the present / I don’t know about the future” — isn’t something you want tracking around your head for hours.
Kiwi anthem Don’t Dream It’s Over is a fitting finale to the disc. Finn introduces it by saying, “I want to send out my heartfelt friendship and thanks” to his bandmates and then those familiar chords, strummed on an acoustic guitar, start up. “There’s a battle ahead / . . . But you’ll never see the end of the road when you’re travelling with me/ . . . Don’t ever let them win/ . . . Hey now, don’t dream it’s over.”
It was over, however, like Finn’s time in his family house will soon be over, like all good times in our lives come to an end, but this is a natural thing and what wins out, always, in the end are joy, love, creativity, friendship and family.
Finn’s Seven Worlds Collide is a snapshot of that truth.