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Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2008
ImageWhy am I struggling so hard to write about a release I really really like? Is it my state of mind? No, it’s pretty good. Could it be a deep sense of ennui, brought about as the result of wading through a stream of corporate music crapola? Maybe. But, upon serious reflection, I think it’s because there’re a million things I can say about Liam Finn’s “I’ll Be Lightning” and all of them are good. It just doesn’t feel normal. Have I lapsed into dreaded hyperbole?

I’ve basically stopped listening to the radio because it’s all starting to sound the same. Every once in awhile I’ll give in to my “I just need something new” demons and flip on the car radio, but I find I’m always (and this isn’t hyperbole) disappointed. No matter what station or genre of music, there’s a sameness about the songs, structure, arrangements, voices, everything. Invariably I’m pummeled by what I call whine music. Rock. Rap. Pop. Doesn’t matter. The purveyors of this stuff all sound like that kid who used to sit in the back of your math class and complain that he couldn’t hear. They’re whiners, whose words transform into a dull constant hum that hangs on like an ear infection.

And in the rare instance where I come across something that cleans my ears out and causes my lips to curl upwards (White Stripes and Kanye West, to name a couple of artists you can actually hear on the radio), it’s a bittersweet victory. I know deep depression is just around the corner, because there’s an endless stream of prefabricated whiney crap coming up after the next commercial break.

You will never hear anything from I’ll Be Lightning on the radio because it’s too good. It’s filled with songs that actually seem like songs. Now this may date me, or make me seem crustily old-fashioned, but I can actually imagine Finn sitting on his living room floor with a guitar and pen and writing these warm, humorous, insightful songs. Some rock, like “Lead Balloon,” while others float beautifully, such as the Bee Gees-esque closer “Shadow of a Man,” and not a one sounds as if it was composed on Garage Band with a rhyming dictionary. Finn is the son of Neil Finn, which also adds Crowded House, Split Enz and Tim Finn to his immediate lineage, and he does his papa proud. On “Gather to the Chapel” he lightly treads on the structure and melody that Neil so nimbly transverses without aping him or selling out to the famous musical father syndrome. His familial influences are apparent throughout but are only that, influences. By recording this music on his own (like a Kiwi Prince) and doing it the old fashioned way, multi-tracked analog, he’s given the songs both an edge and a liveliness that is often buried under the layers of clean-up that infect the age of digital recording. Although in listening to I’ll Be Lightning you can tell he’s definitely a child of his age, and his age’s technology, he uses this knowledge to his benefit and not as a crutch.

It’s when he sings that you can really tell that he’s his father’s son. His voice carries the same sense of sweet longing and mournful hope, and the connection is immediate. At times it seems as if you’re listening to the Finn Brothers record you’ve always wished that Neil and Tim would make. The songs are surprisingly mature for a first solo release, with lyrics that are enticing, oblique and stimulating, as in my favorite cut, “Wise Man.” Over building guitars and background vocals that recall the Beatles “Because,” Finn sings about a man who “acts his age when we’re all giving in.” “Once was fun will later on be boring,” he explains, “ … one sun sets another day is dawning.” It’s a song about growing up and looking ahead, but doesn’t stoop to preach to us. It fills us with aural and oral impressions of what it all means, and allows us to ruminate. At around the three-minute mark it drifts into a minor key and slowly winds down to a peaceful end, complete with ‘70s-era synths. It’s an amazing song.

And every song is worth repeat listens, hell, the whole thing is. The production is just loose enough where the life isn’t choked out of the record and inventive enough so you don’t feel as if every piece of every song has been copped from some past hit. The dreaded place where you expect a song to go is never reached and what you wish would occur frequently comes true. It’s like a beautiful little musical conundrum. Angular but smooth. Mature and playful. Accomplished and raw.

I’ll Be Lightning is a pop/rock dream waiting for you all. It won’t disappoint but it may amaze and/or stun you out of the radio doldrums, as it has done me. It’s a million times better than most of what corporate music America is pushing on us today. And that is not hyperbole.

I downloaded I’ll Be Lightning from iTunes @ 128kbps, 44.100 kHz. When I purchased it I wished they would have had the iTunes Plus version (256kbps) because I thought this might be one of those releases that would benefit from the expanded highs. Naturally, the iTunes Plus version was released later in the week and they want another $3 for me to update. Since I’ve listened to the entire recording over 60 times (yes, that means that I’ve heard it for over 28 hours in the past week) my ears have grown used to what I guess they consider to be an “inferior” version. It’s really my only complaint about iTunes (and I know you all have many more, but I don’t share them -- let’s not beat the dead horse here).

Either way I think IBL is marvelous. The mix is perfect. The playing is impassioned. The vocals are warm. The instruments are played by a living, breathing human. A wet drum sound wins!

It sounds best on my car stereo. I blew it loud and it made me wish it was summer already because there’s an overall Pet Sounds for the 21st Century kind of vibe to this record. I’ve played it so much my cats said they’d rather listen to the barking dog next door.

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