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Tim Finn

+ {Alt} + {Finn} + {The Finn Brothers}

The man behind 70s/80s Antipodean arty-rock/new wave exponents SPLIT ENZ, singer-songwriter TIM FINN – born Brian Timothy Finn, 25 June 1952, Te Awamutu, New Zealand – oozed talent, paving the “waves” for younger jangly-pop indie compatriots such as The CHILLS, The CLEAN, TALL DWARFS, The BATS, STRAITJACKET FITS, et al. Bailing out of the leaky boat that was SPLIT ENZ, in 1984, after over a dozen years service (leaving the burning embers to his brother NEIL FINN), Tim continued his solo “Escapades” throughout a tumultuous time that saw him work as a solo artist (primarily), as an all-too-brief member of CROWDED HOUSE, FINN BROTHERS (both with sibling Neil) and the cosmopolitan trio ALT. He and brother Neil were also awarded the OBE in 1993 for services to the music of New Zealand.
To describe first band SPLIT ENZ as eccentric or eclectic would be understating the fact, but these former Auckland University students had sprawling, manic tendencies – at least in their colourful image attire, while prog, glam, vaudeville, swing, new wave and even punk were bandied about by pundits with a desire to pigeonhole them at their peril. As sure as eggs is eggs and hair-dos are fair-dos, the sprawling SPLIT ENZ could duly be filed under “nearly men” (outside of their Australasian posts), and after several sublime-to-synthetic sets, from 1975’s `Mental Notes’ to 1984’s `See Ya ‘Round’ (without Tim), most fickle fans had sought out another new wave and blow-dry around the corner.
While SPLIT ENZ still generated a healthy interest on home soil (and in their adopted home of Melbourne, Australia – home to Mushroom Records), TIM FINN capitalised on a recent Top 10 songwriting success for Jimmy And The Boys (a la `They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me’), by dispatching his debut, Ricky Fataar-produced solo set, ESCAPADE (1983) {*6} to the NZ top spot. However, lack of promotion overseas for A&M Records led to relatively poor sales abroad; although in America the LP hit #161 on the back of flop 45s `Through The Years’, `Made My Day’ and the belatedly-issued, UK-addled `Fraction Too Much Friction’ (in spring ’84).
Free from the shackles and straight-jacketed enterprise of his former combo, the Virgin Records-signed TIM FINN explored an ambitious funky-pop motif on BIG CANOE (1986) {*6}, alongside British-born lyricist/playwright Jeremy Brock. Session-friendly, synthetic and over-the-top tinny production/arrangements marred what might’ve been a better than average set, although the appearance of former SPLIT ENZ collaborator Phil Judd (on sitar and rhythm guitar) was worth exploration; check out `No Thunder, No Fire, No Rain’, `Carve You In Marble’ and `Don’t Bury My Heart’.
Having cinematic leanings a la Greta Scacchi (he was her hubby until they divorced in ‘89), and providing the theme to The Coca-Cola Kid flick (by way of `Home For My Heart’), Tim co-wrote the soundtrack to `The Les Patterson Long Player – Les Patterson Saves The World’. Subsequently clocking in for Capitol Records, the Kiwi delivered his third set, the eponymous TIM FINN (1989) {*7}. Much improved from his previous statements (charting down under, and in Canada), CROWDED HOUSE producer Mitchell Froom worked hard at simplifying the introspective, lovelorn artist on tracks such as the SQUEEZE-like `Young Mountain’, the PHIL COLLINS-esque `Not Even Close’ and the PAUL CARRACK-ish `How’m I Gonna Sleep’, while the Maori-mooted `Parihaka’ was an inspired cod-reggae ditty.
Working again with his younger brother Neil on CROWDED HOUSE’s third set, `Woodface’ (1991), would have its positives and negatives: the positives were that the group now had a bona fide classic on their hands (including collaborative hit singles `Weather With You’, `Four Seasons In One Day’ and `It’s Only Natural’), the negatives were that the brothers had their own agenda and ambitions. However, the Tchad Blake-produced Finn Brothers, were still to record the eponymous FINN {*7}, a UK Top 20 record late in 1995, which hosted two major/minor hits in `Suffer Never’ and `Angels Heap’.
Appropriately-titled, and squeezed into a busy post-CROWDED HOUSE schedule, TIM FINN under a plethora of producers unveiled BEFORE & AFTER (1993) {*7}. A laid-back UK Top 30 set that dabbled in folky melodies (`Persuasion’ penned with RICHARD THOMPSON), and two ballads scribed with brother Neil (`Strangeness And Charm’ and `In Love With It All’), it also unearthed a song (`Many’s The Time (In Dublin)’) augmented by English solo artist ANDY WHITE and HOTHOUSE FLOWERS’ Liam O’Maonlai.
Proving irresistible to turn down a pop-rock side-project supergroup alumni in the making, ALT – Andy, Liam and Tim (utilising their first initials) – set about recording a full set of songs while taking time out in sunny Melbourne. The cornily-titled ALTITUDE (1995) {*6} was warmly received; fans of all concerned energised and engaged by the trio’s happy-go-lucky, post-party sessions from `We’re All Men’ to `Halfway Round The World’.
Running up to the millennium, FINN was back at work on a cinematic project: the all-but-forgotten STEEL CITY (1998) {*5} soundtrack, while a self-released `Far Out’ EP was thought unworthy to officially premier. With SAY IT IS SO (1999/2000) {*6}, Tim completed another chapter in his long but frustratingly sporadic solo career. Not that it wasn’t worth waiting for, especially with the tantalising prospect of the pop songsmith having decamped to Nashville with producer/multi-instrumentalist Jay Joyce. Unsurprisingly, the record’s homespun atmospherics and oblique lyrics preclude any CROWDED HOUSE/SPLIT ENZ polish. Instead, FINN was revealed as having matured into a singer/songwriter of considerable depth, alive to the possibility that less is, more often than not, more, as examples `Shivers’, `Twinkle’ and `Currents’ would reveal.
In an unprecedented burst of solo creativity (on the back of a shared set, TOGETHER IN CONCERT – LIVE (2000) {*6}, with BIC RUNGA and Dave Dobyn), the SPLIT ENZ founder released yet another solo set, FEEDING THE GODS (2001) {*5}. Of interest to collectors of ALT was the literary appearance of Messrs WHITE and O’Maonlai on a couple of tracks (`What You’ve Done’ and – without the latter – `Say It Is So’), while his old mucker Phil Judd contributed the concluding piece, `Incognito In California’.
Older and wiser (Tim now 50+ and his brother Neil six years his junior), The FINN BROTHERS sparred musically once again for 2004’s Parlophone-endorsed, UK Top 10 sophomore set, EVERYONE IS HERE {*8}. One heck of a harmony-fuelled record (The EVERLY BROTHERS of their generation), the pair worked with the likes of producers Froom, Tony Visconti and Jon Brion on the majority of the tracks, the highlights served up by Brit-only hits `Won’t Give In’, `Nothing Wrong With You’ and `Edible Flowers’.
Apart from the odd anniversary/celebratory SPLIT ENZ reunion, TIM FINN duly popped in and out of the music biz from time to time. From 2006’s IMAGINARY KINGDOM {*7} – his final effort to receive an international distribution and highlighting `Couldn’t Be Done’, `Salt To The Sea’ and `Winter Light’ – to 2008’s THE CONVERSATION {*6} and 2011’s THE VIEW IS WORTH THE CLIMB {*6}, it seemed the multi-faceted songwriter was chalking up albums for the coffee-table contingent. A shame indeed for such talent not to receive worthy worldwide appraisals, introspective soft-rock pieces such as `Straw To Gold’, `Snowbound’ and others went unnoticed by prospective fans.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2015

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