The name Finn carries a certain gravitas when it comes to Antipodean musical lexicon. Indeed, while it’s often difficult to see outside of the Australian and New Zealand music scene when resident in it, it’s fair to say the family’s reach extends globally. Few people need reminding of the worldwide success and acclaim brothers Tim and Neil achieved with Split Enz, Crowded House – ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ remains a cross-generational anthem for the ages – and The Finn Brothers, while Liam, the son of Neil and his equally musical wife Sharon, has carved a successful niche of his own. While certainly never achieving the kind of fame and influence his father and uncle did, Liam’s more experimental dream-pop approach that favoured multi-instrumental looping and electronics over the more classic pop-rock of the previous Finn generation meant he likely never would. Regardless, father and son coming together to create Lightsleeper is momentous for anyone with a passing interest in the Finn past and present.
It’s not the first time the two have worked together, they’ve performed together regularly including Liam playing with the Crowded House reunion tour band as well as several other shared performances, but it’s the first time they’ve come together in true collaboration. As such, it’s tempting to perform surgery on these tracks and pull apart the specific moments that categorise each Finn. But Lightsleeper never really affords you that opportunity. Rather, it gives the feel of a family jam affair, an eclectic selection of songs that seem pulled from proudly shared moments of intimacy and togetherness. The success of the Finns was a product of this family and friends ethos, the idea that the quality of the music is always secondary to the environment in which it was created. The album bares this on its sleeve, opening with a chorus of “together, together” gift Neil bestowed on It’s a sense only heightened by the inclusion of Sharon Finn on bass and drumming of Liam’s brother Elroy on several of the tracks while even good family friend and new Neil bandmate Mick Fleetwood makes an appearance.
That said, there are clear links that can be made to the contributors’ respective backgrounds. Neil’s remarkable gift for melody is an ever present while Liam’s experimental influence adds dimension. ‘Where’s My Room’ glistens with a weird, off-kilter whimsy while the light, spaciness of ‘Meet Me in the Air’ will be familiar to followers of the dream-pop qualities of Liam’s career. Meanwhile, ‘Anger Plays a Part’ and ‘Listen’ drip with Neil’s love of heartfelt melody as the respective acoustic strums and dramatic piano chords prop up some of the most captivating and moving moments of the record. The two voices share the load, alternating the roles of melody and harmony with ease; at times distinct and at others almost indistinguishable from each other as they sing of past mistakes and lost love with the same humility that runs through the music. “Is it for myself or for her I cry?”, the chorus pines on ‘Listen’, while ‘Anger Plays a Part’ speaks of how “I won’t defend the things I said to hurt”. It’s dreamy and unafraid to try new things, but moments like the bursting chorus of ‘Back to Life’ prove Neil still has his penchant for a good old-fashioned catchy hook.
It’s a record perhaps best captured by its bookends. The aptly titled opener, ‘Prelude – Island of Peace’ is a grand, excessive cacophony of beautifully constructed soundscapes that chants of ships coming in to safe harbour and the joy of togetherness, while the album closes out to the understated calm of ‘Hold Her Close’, a simple message of treasuring the truly valuable things in life – like loved ones. “We can all go building beds in the pillowy sky, where the baddies won’t find us,” father and son gently sing together. The Finns are a big deal, music royalty in their native New Zealand and adopted Australia and indeed the world over. But for such pedigree Lightsleeper is remarkably grounded. For all the exceptional musical moments and talent on display, the overwhelming sense is a record created with and for each other. The rest of us are just given the chance to listen in to this family enjoy their creativity together, and it only really makes sense if you’re willing to meet them there.