After spending nearly a decade (1977-1985) with Aussie pop icons Split Enz and another decade (1986-1996) with Crowded House, Neil Finn has released his first solo album, "Try Whistling This" (Work/Sony 1998).
Neil joined brother Tim's already established experimental art-rock quintet Split Enz and sent the band into a straight ahead Beatlesque pop direction. Neil's brilliant songs became the group's biggest hits when MTV put videos like "I Got You," "One Step Ahead," and "History Never Repeats" into heavy rotation.
After the Enz's demise, Neil formed Crowded House and recorded a refreshing pop masterpiece with the band's self-titled debut, which spawned the hits "World Where You Live," "Now We're Getting Somewhere," "Something So Strong," and "Don't Dream It's Over," which shot to #2 in the U.S.
"Temple of Low Men" was the 1988 follow-up album that didn't provide any hits with its dark, slow-tempo ballads, but its emotionally dense lyrics and beautifully haunting melodies made it one of the top records of the decade.
The band would release two more studio records ("Woodface" and "Together Alone"), and although these contained pop song triumphs like "Fall At Your Feet," "Four Seasons In One Day," and "Locked Out," the band appeared to be in a steady decline.
So it came as refreshing news that Neil would release a record with his brother Tim ("Finn Brothers" 1997) and then set out on his own in 1998. "Try Whistling This" is indeed a departure from the traditional pop song production that has shaped Neil's career previously. Over half of the album's tracks open with a drum machine or repeating sample. But don't get the impression that this is hip or trip-hop ... it's not even close. The programmed samples simply provide a new house for Finn's lovely melodies and opaque lyrics. But the '90s' technology and modern production neither help nor hurt this album.
On "Whistling," Finn maintains his place as one of the finest tunesmiths of his era. The album features pop gems like the Beatles influenced "She Will Have Her Way," "Souvenir," and the creepy "Last One Standing," which brings back memories of the "Temple Of Low Men" album. But this album also proves that the slow decline of Crowded House was not the fault of his fellow band members, but rather the tarnishing of Finn's own bright melodies as evidenced on songs like "Twisty Bass" and the title track, which are lifeless and slowly circle to nowhere . Here, he is sometimes guilty as charged by critics who cite his compositions as "minor" works that never seem to inspire or come alive. In general, Finn seems to have lost some of the freshness and lyrical passion that defined his earlier work. Still yet, this album is better than most that will come out this year. And on the album's best songs, he shows he can still write a great tune.
So Finn is like a major leaguer who is batting .290 with 30 homeruns, but is constantly reminded of the two years he batted .315 with 45 homeruns. But he should be able to live with that, after all, counting Crowded Houses' first two albums and his half of Split Enz "Greatest Hits," Neil Finn has already made two legendary albums, and this one's pretty good.