New Zealand’s finest musical export and songwriter, Neil Finn, has released his eighth solo album Out of Silence. The record is a unique offering as it was rehearsed and recorded live at Finn’s Roundhead Studio in Auckland, while being streamed live to the world via YouTube and Facebook.
Finn assembled a small village of musicians that included several members of his family, a choir made up of local luminaries like Don McGlashan, Tiny Ruins, Sean James Donnelly and Lawrence Arabia, and an orchestral section arranged and conducted by the extraordinary Victoria Kelly, who finds openings in Finn’s songs that seem to grow into bigger spaces. Finn brought in cameras so anyone could experience the process online, not just watching and hearing the album take shape over the course of several rehearsals and a final night of recording, but even interacting, with the occasional question or request via Skype.
It’s a brave project to undertake, committing new material to the difficulties of a real-time performance, especially for a perfectionist like Finn who has been known to obsess over the finer details. And yet there is a paradox, in that the most community-minded album Finn has made is also his most serious. Out of Silence’is a troubling album for the troubling times in which we live.
Out of Silence finds Finn playing on the piano rather than his preferred guitar. The piano is where Neil has turned for his more meditative work and it is clear he has been engaged in some serious contemplation with songs filled with troubling images of war and terror captured in the delicate piece, Terrorise Me. The song is his response to the brutal terrorist attack on music lovers at an ‘Eagles of Death Metal’ concert at the Paris’ Bataclan Theatre in November 2015.
In Widow’s Peak he raises warlike beings and the smell of ‘blood buried under my feet’ and in the glaring gospel, The Law is Always on Your Side, Finn sings about violence of a police killing and his shaken faith in those charged with upholding justice.
Alone finds Neil paired with brother Tim Finn, sharing a sentiment of being physically placed in a bustling and overcrowded city, but feeling so alien and apart from all of them that it might as well be deserted. There is the simple elegance of Independence Day, perhaps the most immediately Finn-like tune on the album.
At the top of it all is Finn’s voice. Of all his outstanding qualities, perhaps it’s his singing that’s the most undersold: completely distinctive, unforced and gentle. If you missed out on watching the Out of Silence production, the songs will be there waiting for you to listen. A masterful project and an astonishing album that only a maestro like Neil Finn would attempt and pull off to perfection.
Review by Rob Lyon