Family Ties

Tim and Neil Finn prove that they can make music together without killing each other.

It's early June, and less than 48 hours earlier, an event took place that immediately changed the manner in which the current Finn Brothers tour was perceived. At the conclusion of a concert in London, Crowded House, guitarist/vocalist Neil Finn's main project for the past decade, shuttered its windows and bolted its doors. Suddenly, singer-songwriter Tim Finn--Neil's older sibling and erstwhile bandmate in both Crowded House and its popular predecessor, Split Enz--finds himself fielding questions from journalists who want to know if the Brothers' self-titled debut album and the series of performances it's spawned were factors in the House's collapse.

"It's not like a direct thing," Tim says from Sydney, Australia, "but I think it may have affected Neil's thinking in the sense that everything we've done with this project has been pleasurable, and we've kept it that way quite deliberately. We've only done the press and the touring that we've wanted to do, and we paid for the record ourselves so there's no sort of feeling of debt to anybody.

"I think probably it made Neil think, 'Wow,'" he continues in a cool, distinguished, lightly accented voice, "because to some extent, the burden of expectations with Crowded House has been substantial. Its first record was so hugely successful, and I think ever since then there's been this desire in everyone around them to get back to that point or beyond that point--which they haven't done. And that becomes a drag after a while, what with too much interference from the outside. So I think what our record reminded him of is that things can be much purer."

This observation is an apt one, for the prime characteristic of Finn Brothers, released in this country on the Discovery imprint, is its utter effortlessness. While most recordings creak to some degree with the creative energies that were expended in the process of making them, these eleven ditties seem as natural as the sight of the sun rising over the Finns' New Zealand birthplace. What the long-player loses due to the absence of bracing sonic highs (only the final track, "Kiss the Road of Rarotonga," rocks in the conventional sense), it more than makes up for in subtlety. Cuts such as "Only Talking Sense," "Angels Heap" and "Paradise (Wherever You Are)" flow into one another beautifully, exuding unforced tunefulness and a quiet confidence that's far sturdier than the qualities present in most disposable pop. Listening to it, one senses that the brothers have grown so comfortable with each other that any discord that might once have complicated their relationship has long since dissipated.

This may come as a surprise to those who caught the Crowded House configuration that visited Boulder in 1991 to support the disc Woodface (originally conceived as the first Finn Brothers offering). For that album, Tim was invited to move into the House and become a full-time member alongside Neil, drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour. But live, the blend of Finns was surprisingly awkward. The brothers stayed at opposite sides of the stage throughout most of the appearance, seldom interacting or even making eye contact. The tension was palpable, and it led to a performance that was less a sustained musical statement than a case study. No doubt realizing this, Tim left the ensemble a few dates later.

Today, Tim sees this experiment more objectively. "There were some great shows and some not so great shows," he says. "But Neil--all he had to do was to turn around and look at me to know that I wasn't suited to just being a keyboard player in a band, doing harmonies. I just wasn't fully stretched, and he knew that. He likes to see me stretched, and I like to see him that way, too--that's when we're both at our best. But in that setting, it was like I was too contained in a way; it was too easy, and I don't think either of us was particularly happy about that. In the end, it was a square peg in a round hole, really."

It also represented a role reversal, since Tim, as the older brother by about six years, was accustomed to having Neil literally and figuratively play his tunes, instead of the other way around. During an interview with Westword at the time of Woodface, Neil made frequent reference to the dynamics of power between him and the elder Finn. "Tim maintains that when I came along, he got pneumonia," he said, "and that he was always trying to compete with me by getting really close to me." Later, Neil added, "While we were apart--especially when he had a solo career and I was doing Crowded House--I was conscious of what he was doing and he was conscious of what I was doing, and any success on either side was noted and difficult to accept in a way. But I don't want to go too heavily into that, because it was just what you would expect."

In responding to these comments, Tim comes across as a bit frosty; he seems mildly peeved to discover that Neil ever discussed these issues in public. "Brothers can talk about this kind of stuff, but if you start putting it out there in the media, it can obviously be misinterpreted," he grumbles. However, he subsequently warms to the topic. "I didn't realize until years and years later that I had enjoyed the young-prince syndrome. I had older sisters, but I was the only son, the adored one. Since I was just six at the time, none of these would have been very hardcore, crystallized concepts by any means. But like any child, you enjoy the autonomy and the uniqueness--and I do remember that I became quite ill around the time Neil came along.

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