Out Of Silence (EMI)
There is something perverse yet appropriately Neil Finn-like about this new album, whose circumstances of birth are integral to its “story” as much as its construction.
Out Of Silence was created in full public view, its rehearsal, preparations and final four-hour recording screened on the web over successive Fridays in July. It was made in a studio filled with musicians, family (who are all seemingly musicians) singers, friends, technicians and a small audience.
Ostensibly a solo album – though that doesn’t mean one man/one instrument as the full band and augmenting strings confirm - its sound is peppered with “group” textures in differently shaped vocal backing ensembles: a kind of nautical male group feel; a mixed male/female “choir”; some stage musical-like commentary chorus; a duet with brother Tim.
And each Friday during this process he would chat with people online, sharing stories, taking requests, explaining some of the process, bringing everyone inside the tent, or studio, so that by the time the album appeared a week after that recording everyone could feel a part of it.
There is no way this could be anything but a collective effort, a joint enterprise, a shared experience.
And yet, and yet.
Out Of Silence is an album dominated by the solitary and the alone, by distance and absence.
It spills from the character feeling himself a “lone star on the edge of the universe” in the opening song (Love Is Emotional, itself dedicated to the idea that for all the definitions ascribed by literature, church and more, love is unknowable, uncontrolled and decidedly individual) and observing a couple go past on a Vespa and speculating on that relationship from a point of observation rather than involvement (Second Nature and its forward-facing bassline), to remembering an unexplainable and maybe unknowable acquaintance (The Law Is Always On Your Side) and the sense that being “always distant, on the inside” may cruel prospects of a relationship where “we get closer to believing that we’re through” (I Know Different).
Even surrounded by warm, close voices, even with a dogged attachment to a kind of trust or hope more often than not, there’s the brothers Finn singing of being “alone in the city” with a “heart heavy as a stone … bewildered and alone” in Alone, a song that carries a sadness that feels bone-deep.
Or Finn and layers of other voices tapping into old war and renewed fear, new war and old emotions like blood “buried under my fee” in Widow’s Peak, which could in a way be a companion piece to the underplayed desolation of Terrorise Me, a song looking to put a heart and a face on events that take hundreds of souls away in one act of bastardy, or faith.
An act, that is, involving others but at its core solitary and acutely personal.
It’s worth remembering that Finn did call the 1993 Crowded House album Together Alone.
As with Paul Kelly who has made dub records, taken on Shakespeare lyrics and shuffled collaborators, Finn is someone who has periodically gone off-piste to rejuvenate his songwriting, or more accurately his willingness to challenge his habits.
Generally, his solo albums, and the one he made with his wife Sharon, have been spiky and odd and less formal, less “easy”, than the Crowded House records. They’ve not always been sellers, though they’ve been consistently interesting and sparky as the famously controlling Finn let go in some ways.
Like Kelly, whose new album is being celebrated in part because it sounds like his “classic” era, each time Finn returns to more familiar fare he gets welcomed with joy and relief, his gift for melody and mood intact and sometimes seeming enhanced, even if maybe only by contrast.
For those who yearn for that, this album certainly is closer to the publicly favoured Finn style.
That said, Out Of Silence has played with the procedures to shake up things, as Finn does with his more esoteric records, along the way bringing enough stylistic edges to shift the ground beneath a couple of seemingly recognisable forms, such as the slightly disturbed harmonies of Terrorise Me, or, though it is, with Independence Day, one of the weak songs on the record, the way The Law Is Always On Your Side makes a low key gospel shape out of its high church material.
He can write a damn fine tune after all, even under scrutiny, surrounded by many, alone together in a month of Fridays.