Album Review: Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights

By on Thursday, 6th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Neil Finn Dizzy Heights coverIf a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a song that paints a picture? The logic may be somewhat circular, but therein lies the dilemma of writing about music, I suppose. The songs on Neil Finn‘s upcoming album, ‘Dizzy Heights’, are the kind that create sonic atmosphere without specific images, using sounds to suggest ideas without explicitly naming or explaining them. In short, they’re the kind of songs that defy articulate description.

‘Dizzy Heights’ is an album about euphoria: striving for euphoria, achieving euphoria, reminiscing on past euphoria. Lyrically, there is an overarching concern with interpersonal connection, as opposed to the pervasive superficiality of virtual relationships facilitated by social media. Musically, the songs center around foundational bass grooves that allow the melodies, harmonies, and song structures plenty of room to wander.

‘Impressions’ is a groovy, echoing track that sets the mood for the entire album with fuzzy percussion and airy backing vocals. The string ensemble creates a broadly dramatic orchestral effect, here and on several other tracks, pushing the limits of traditional pop song structure even farther than Finn has in the past (think about the somewhat amorphous forms of ‘Try Whistling This’ or ‘The Climber’). Similarly, title track ‘Dizzy Heights’ is built on a smooth, lounge-y groove, and fragmented, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, such as the chorus: “Smoke drifting up to the dizzy heights / Where the elevator won’t come down / And the ceiling cracks like a treasure map / The mosquitoes buzzing round and round.” In a sidelong acknowledgement of his new, more intuitive rhythmic style, Finn comments, “If you don’t like the groove, then call the cops”.

The most artistically experimental track on the album is ‘Divebomber’, reviewed here when it was released in November 2013. The album’s first single release, ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, expected alongside the album release on the 10th of February, is much more straightforward, both in terms of song structure and instrumentation. In the same vein, ‘Better Than TV’ has a clear-cut pop structure grounded by a heavy keyboard ostinato which allows for flexibility in the vocal line as Finn sings, “If there is a chance, if there is a chance / That you wanted to dance, that you wanted to sing / Don’t die wondering, was there something missing?”

Finn has often been coy about his lyrics and subject matter, keen to let his listeners take their own meaning from what he writes. He has discussed the unique inspiration for ‘Divebomber’ and, in an interview with The Guardian, revealed that ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was instigated by his encounter with Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of child-murder then exonerated after 18 years in prison.

Then there are songs like the exquisite ‘Lights of New York’, which is more difficult to pin down. Full of poignant but obscure imagery, there is no real emotional or musical development, but it feels vaguely like a love song, with the lyric, “As bridges stand against the tide / Satellites move across the sky / In all the years that I have seen you rise / You never look so supreme / When you’re lit by the lights of New York.” Ambient noise behind the piano and strings implies life passing by, outside the nostalgic introspection of the lyrics. The lilting piano melody at the end has the potential to develop into something further, but Finn lets it drift away, leaving behind a sense of melancholy, along with a lingering smile.

‘Dizzy Heights’ might not have the immediate impact of Neil Finn’s earlier pop hits, but it does have some finely-tuned emotional moments as it expands upon Finn’s already remarkable ability to create an atmospheric effect both with his lyrics and his music. Here, Finn displays a willingness, even a determination, to expand beyond the formula that has worked so well for him in the past. This record might fall into the art-rock category, but Finn flashes just enough pop sensibility to keep longtime fans from feeling completely disoriented by his euphoric explorations.

8.5/10

‘Dizzy Heights’ is due out on next Monday, the 10th of February on Lester Records via Kobalt Label Services. ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, its first single, will be released on the same day; stream the single below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvKvUIQXb9Q[/youtube]

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2 Responses

[…] lyrics were a perfect foreshadow for the songs from ‘Dizzy Heights’ (reviewed here), two of which opened Finn’s set. Hazy album opener ‘Impressions’ and debut single ‘Flying […]

[…] one another, and while Finn père doesn’t appear on ‘The Nihilist’, hints of his recent album ‘Dizzy Heights’ weave through several of the songs. The point of connection between the two albums is small but […]

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