When Frank Sinatra gave advice to Nancy about embarking on a singing career, he said the one thing she shouldn’t do was to stay in the same genre: the comparisons would always be negative. Well, Liam Finn never seems to have got the same advice from his Dad – Crowded House’s Neil Finn. A blindfolded listener might often struggle to differentiate between the two, but that’s no bad thing of course. Despite understandably sounding uncannily like his father (and Uncle Tim on double tracked harmonies) he has managed to escape a case of Julian Lennon syndrome. Liam Finn has produced a debut album that stands alone without being overshadowed, if alongside rather than diverging away from the template of the family collection. No mean achievement.
So, you sort of know what to expect then, and if you’ve liked the father, you’ll like the son. From the off, ‘Better To Be’ ushers you in to a familiar place. There’s that genetic gift for a good melody throughout, with plenty of inventive folk-pop embellishment on top. His youthful slant gives occasional vent to more of the art-rock experimentation of Split Enz than the vanilla pop lushness of more recent Crowded House. All tastefully and meticulously done, the pace swings from the a cappella of ‘Lullaby’ to the riotous (but not quite riotous enough maybe) ‘Lead Balloon’ powered by some grungy guitar and Sesame Street’s Animal on manic drums. Actually, practically the whole album is solely the handiwork of the annoyingly talented Mr. Finn, whose complete control extends to production and artwork too. Having use of the family studio in Auckland must help, but Finn has actually been based in London for a number of years – since finishing as frontman of New Zealand band Betchadupawhen (no, I’d not heard of them either) and excepting recent touring jaunts as part of the Crowded House reunion backing band.
In what might be a conscious attempt to be a little different, Finn’s own live act is a one man plus loop pedals affair. Reports are that it is something of a spectacle, but I’m not convinced tracks like ‘Lead Balloon’ wouldn’t lose out presented that way. I hope to be proved wrong one day. Other picks are the breezy shuffling of ‘Energy Spent’ that sticks like a limpet in the wrinkle of the cortex devoted to absent minded whistling (particularly well developed in my case), and of the slower numbers ‘Remember When’ and the variably-structured ‘Wise Man’ stand out. ‘Remember When’ is the most personal and affecting, with lyrics that are the highpoint of those on the album. Only the final duo of ‘Wide Awake On The Voyage Home’ and piano ballad ‘Shadow Of Your Man’ drag a little, with the bittersweet being too heavy on the sweet side. A few sharper edges elsewhere might have added extra bite and emotional variation too, although Finn’s voice is always going to be more suited to soothing rather than raging. There’s never quite one of those joyous starburst moments of shifting melody that Dad might have come up with, but he’s got time on his side. Overall, I’ll Be Lightning is nevertheless an enjoyable solid debut. Good on you, son.