On November 24, 1996, the decade-long career of the group Crowded House was celebrated with a final concert before an estimated 150, 000 fans on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Although the group’s greatest hits package had just hit number one in Australia and Britain and the band remained popular in the United States, Canada, and Europe, Crowded House founder Neil Finn felt the time was right to move on. “I crave a new context to draw something special out of me as a songwriter,” Finn had commented in Billboard when the band’s demise was announced during a British concert tour in June, although he gave no details about his future plans out of respect to his bandmates. After the dramatic final appearance with the stunning view of Sydney Harbor as a backdrop, Finn retreated to his native New Zealand and took up painting, a pastime that removed him from the hype of the music world. Within two years, however, Finn made a return to the recording studio and began another chapter in his already celebrated musical career.
Neil Mullane Finn was born on May 27, 1958, in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. Known as the “Rose Town of New Zealand,” Te Awamutu was a small community on the country’s North Island, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) south of the major city of Auckland. Finn’s parents ran an orchard together with their four children: Neil, Tim, Carolyn, and Judy. The Finns enjoyed performing music at informal family gatherings. Neil was also a devoted pop music fan, citing Donovan and the Beatles as profound influences on his development as a musician and songwriter.
Tim, six years Neil’s senior, was the first Finn sibling to pursue a musical career. Performing with bands during his stint at Auckland University, Tim formed Split Enz in 1972 with some college friends. The band enjoyed limited success from its new base in Melbourne, Australia, but verged on breaking up. When one of the band’s founding members left the group in 1977, Tim asked Neil to join the band. The younger Finn’s first notable contribution to Split Enz, the international hit single “I Got You,” brought the group to a new level of success. Several more hits followed, including “Message to My Girl,” but by 1984, Split Enz had broken up.
Neil Finn paused momentarily before assembling a new set of musicians under the name Crowded House in 1984. For the next ten years, he enjoyed even greater success with hit singles such as “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” Tim Finn joined Crowded House for its 1991 album Woodface, but later decided to pursue a solo career. The brothers remained close, however, and collaborated again on the 1996 song “Mary of the South Seas,” a tribute to their mother who had emigrated as a child to New Zealand from Ireland. The brothers also released the collaborative work Finn in 1996, an album that Q magazine summarized as “Some lovely songs …, a few rather
Born Neil Mullane Finn on May 27, 1958, in Te Awamutu, New Zealand.
Joined Split Enz, 1977; formed Crowded House, 1984; dissolved band, 1996; released debut solo album, Try Whistling This, 1998; released One Nil, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Parlophone/EMI, Manchester Square, London W1A 1ES, England, website: http://www.parlophone.co.uk; EMI Music New Zealand, Limited, P.O. Box 864 Auckland, New Zealand, website: http:www.emimusic.co.nz. Website —Neil Finn Official Website: http://www.nilfun.net.
ordinary ones and a lot of fun, particularly for the Finns. Fortunately, the fun and the spirit of the whole affair is mostly infectious.”
As the brothers’ collaborative efforts took precedence over Crowded House, Neil Finn realized a greater need to work as a solo artist. Announcing the end of Crowded House in June of 1996 during a British tour to support the group’s greatest hits collection, Recurring Dream, Finn and his bandmates capped the band’s success with the farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House in November of 1996. Crowded House had sold over six million albums during its career, and although some critics bemoaned the fact that Finn was quitting a band that had yet to peak in terms of its artistic accomplishment, the disappointment was matched by anticipation over what his solo career would produce.
“There’s nothing that gets you more than a skillfully crafted melody and beautifully supporting chords,” Finn told CNN.com upon the release of his first solo album in 1998, Try Whistling This. “So I’ll be addicted to that for the rest of my days.” Indeed, the album enhanced Finn’s reputation as a wordsmith and melodic craftsman, albeit with more sparse, more somber arrangements than featured on Crowded House and Split Enz songs. Time South Pacific welcomed Try Whistling This as evidence of “an evolving New Zealand sound—one that combines darkly gothic lyrics with Polynesian sway.” Finn—by now living with his wife and two sons in Auckland—agreed, telling the magazine that “it’s in the end to do with something which seeps in from the land and the light and the indigenous cultures here.”
Although Try Whistling This sold well enough in New Zealand, Australia, and England to secure the release of a follow-up album, it was decidedly less successful than his past efforts. Yet Finn refused to be compromised by his past triumphs. As he commented in a press release on his own website, “I haven’t discovered fully what the Neil Finn sound is, but I’m enjoying the exploration.” This exploration included writing the score for the New Zealand film Rain, expected to be released in 2001, and collaborating with the Australian Chamber Orchestra on musical pieces inspired by the poems of cartoonist Michael Leunig. The songwriter also prepared to publish a book focusing on his song’s lyrics. Most of all, Finn retained his sense of fun on the concert stage. A tour of New Zealand in early 2001 featured amateur musicians who auditioned by sending tapes of their performances to Finn. He also enjoyed having his son, Liam, join the tour as a drummer and bassist. In all, Finn wears his reputation as a pop star lightly. As he told the Australian in February of 2001, “I like being in the music industry, but I don’t like being immersed in it all the time.”
Finn’s second solo album, One Nil, went to the top of New Zealand’s charts immediately after its March of 2001 release, although it received a critically cooler reception than his past efforts. A British Skipmusic.com reviewer was disappointed with Finn’s increasingly introspective direction, claiming that One Nil “has seen him plumb the depths of mediocrity and climbed [sic] the stunted peaks of averageness” with the album’s muted passions. Yet Finn was pleased with his second solo album, telling the Australian before its release, “I think it’s a romantic record. It’s more consistent than the first solo record. It’s got a more consistent groove running through it.”
Despite the album’s mixed reception, Finn conducted a well received series of concerts in New Zealand to support its release. Assembling a stellar cast of musicians that included Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Ved-der; former Smiths and Electronic guitarist Johnny Marr; Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway of Radiohead; celebrated violinist and keyboardist Lisa Germano; and Finn’s son, Liam, Finn and company held a five-day, sold-out concert series in Auckland that became a celebration of his entire career. Vedder had been a fan since Finn’s Split Enz days, and the other musicians were longtime friends of the performer; Germano had also been a guest musician on One Nil. Onstage, the chemistry among the musicians and their love of performing together showed. The Guardian called one concert “three-and-a-half hours of the stuff that makes you fall in love with your record collection all over again.”
In addition to his book publishing, orchestral work, and score writing in 2001, Finn scouted for a record deal to release One Nil in America where he had released Try Whistling This through an independent label. Finn also prepared to tour Europe before returning for another tour of Australia where he maintained his reputation as one of the region’s most notable songwriters and performers. In his home country, of course, he was known simply as “New Zealand’s King of Pop,” an epithet bestowed upon him by the New Zealand Music website. Despite Finn’s self-effacing character, it is a label that he had earned with over 20 years of outstanding contributions to popular music.
(Contributor) Common Ground: Voices of Modern Irish Music, EMI Premier, 1996.
Try Whistling This, Sony, 1998.
One Nil, EMI Parlophone, 2001.
With Crowded House
Crowded House, Capitol, 1986.
Temple of Low Men, Capitol, 1988.
Woodface, Capitol, 1991.
Together Alone, Capitol, 1994.
Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House, Capitol, 1996.
Afterglow, Capitol, 2000.
With Split Enz
True Colors, Mushroom, 1979.
Time & Tide, Mushroom, 1982.
History Never Repeats Itself: The Best of Split Enz, Universal/A&M, 1987.
With Finn Brothers
Finn, EMI/Discovery, 1996.
Australian, February 23, 2001; May 26, 2001.
Billboard, June 15, 1996, p. 6; December 14, 1996, p. 37; April 28, 2001, p. 62.
Observer, April 15, 2001.
Q, November 1995.
Time South Pacific, June 15, 1998, p. 76.
Times, April 7, 2001.
“Neil Finn,” New Zealand Music, http://www.nzmusic.com (June 18, 2001).
“Neil Finn goes solo for a melodic ‘Try Whistling This,’” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.eom/SHOWBIZ/Music/9808/19/neil.finn/ (June 20, 2001).
Neil Finn Official Website, http://www.nilfun.net (June 20, 2001).
“Neil Finn-One Nil,” Skip Music, http://www.cyberbritain.co/uk/mp3/reveiws/98729357.html (June 20, 2001).
Born: Neil Mullane Finn; Te Awamutu, New Zealand, 27 May 1958
Best-selling album since 1990: Try Whistling This (1998)
Hit songs since 1990: "Chocolate Cake," "Sinner"
Neil Finn is a singer/songwriter whose compositions bear the mark of his vivid imagination, keen musical intuition, and the tender heart of a true romantic. Finn was the lead singer for the popular New Zealand band Crowded House, which formed in 1984 and released several albums until they finally called it quits in 1996. Finn, who has a warm, crisp, inviting voice, became a solo artist after quitting Crowded House in 1996.
Finn grew up one of four children in Te Awamutu, a small town on New Zealand's North Island where his musical family owned and operated an orchard. Beginning in 1984, Finn acted as the primary songwriter for the pop trio Crowded House, which he formed after his brother Tim left Split Enz to start a solo career. Finn recruited drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour, and the band became known for its meticulously detailed lyrics and its knack for irresistible melodies. Finn's solo music showcases the familiar strengths of Crowded House while taking the music a step further to a more adventurous place. His debut solo album, Try Whistling This (2000), is moody and textured, and features strings, mellotron, slinky bass, and cello. From the bass-driven, slow, funky tempo of "Sinner," the album's first single, to the redeeming powers of love in the stirring "She Will Have Her Way," Try Whistling This is replete with atmospheric layers, sticky melodies, and heartfelt lyrics. With production help from Nigel Goodrich, who worked with the eccentric rock band Radiohead, and Mitchell Froom, the album is ethereal and darkly gothic at times. In the ballad title track, Finn's gift for heartbreakingly romantic lyrics reigns supreme as he sings, "If I can't be with you I would rather have a different face / If I can't be near you I would rather be adrift in space."
Finn toured extensively in support of his debut solo release and even brought along his son Liam, who plays guitar. Between the tour and his second solo album, One All (2002), which had a strong debut overseas, Finn scored the music for the Australian drama Rain and collaborated with the Australian Chamber Orchestra on musical pieces inspired by the poems of cartoonist Michael Leunig.
Try Whistling This sold well in New Zealand and landed at number five in the United Kingdom the week of its release, but most music fans in the United States know Finn as the lead singer of a band with one bona fide hit song, "Something So Strong." Consequently, much of the American audience overlooks him, to the bewilderment of his fans and critics. If talent shared equivalent rewards with fame, Finn—whose ability to write clean, clever, beautiful pop songs has led to comparisons with Paul McCartney—would have achieved far more success as a solo artist.
Try Whistling This (2000); One All (Nettwerk, 2002); With Crowded House: Together Alone (EMI/Capitol,1994); Wood-face (EMI/Capitol, 1991). With Tim Finn: Finn (Capitol, 1996). Soundtrack: Rain (2002).
N. Finn, Neil Finn—Once Removed (London, 2000).