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  • Tony Harris

FAMILY ALBUMS


The history of Rock & Roll is littered with tales of sibling rivalry - stories that would shadow Cain and Abel and more often than not, lead to consequences that would be classified as beyond biblical for their acts.


The Everly Brothers notoriously could not stand one another for huge sections of their career. Creedence Clearwater Revival was originally Tom Fogerty's band before his younger brother John joined and became the main focus as singer and writer. The history of the Gallagher brothers has been microscopically documented in the popular press and is still capable of making news eleven years after Oasis split; whilst if you are a fan of UB40, I doubt you can keep pace with the changing factions of ex-members that seem to coalesce around each of the Campbell brothers nowadays.


Obviously, there is always the issue of needing to reassert the pecking order of age and maturity especially if the younger brother has become a more significant focal point. Noel may be a far better writer and Tom Fogerty an exceptional rhythm guitarist but all eyes were on their younger brothers.


And I imagine Christmas Day in the Campbell household get a bit feisty - especially if the old red red wine has been flowing (sorry...).


However, bands from Down Under - several of the most successful of which have brothers at their heart - seemed to have always kept a lid on their fraternal issues. INXS achieved worldwide success with not two but three Farriss brothers while Malcolm and Angus Young spearheaded AC/DC's continuous global triumphs without any familial schism it would seem. Interestingly, neither of these bands had a brother as the lead and so were never really competing in the spotlight - apart from Angus's elaborate guitar antics. This is without even mentioning the mighty Brothers Gibb of course, though they were originally from the UK.


Which leads me to the subject of this piece and a tale of two very different albums and how a little fraternal magic left two enduring and enjoyable records with almost mirroring backstories.



This was prompted by an Anniversary reissue of an album I had always liked - "True Colours" by Split Enz which was released back in 1980. Although this was their breakthrough global album, it was actually their fifth and first for new label A&M. They really went to town on its promotion with different colour variants of the sleeve, the first commercially available laser-etched disc and the first long player that had an accompanying video album.


However, for the purposes of this story, it is also the first album where Neil Finn really started to contribute with his songwriting.


He had joined two albums earlier after the band's mercurial guitarist Phil Judd left and the band needed a replacement. Their keyboardist, Mike Chunn recommended the frontman, Tim Finn's younger brother, to join. It was agreed and Neil came over to London to join his brother's band in the late seventies. The band had always been fairly eccentric and had a frenzied new wave attitude that had been applauded by some critics but not materialised into major sales. Interestingly, they had supported Roxy Music on their Oceania tour and undoubtedly their look and art-house feel had been a major influence.


However, after four largely overlooked records (with some small success down under), clearly a change was required and having lived on the dole after being dropped by their previous record label, the intention was to pursue a hit more actively. Three contributing factors created a perfect storm - David Tickle who had worked with Blondie was brought in to produce; New Wave was at its height and their oddball look and sound seemed to chime with the times; and Neil started putting forward his songs for consideration. Previously, he had written with his brother but now imposed more of his own style on three tracks on the record.


Most notably, the worldwide hit, "I Got You".



Of course, it is a song full of new wave quirks with a synthesiser platform that seems borrowed from The Cars but it's full of hooks and despite its air of mystery, is actually at. its heart, a very simple love song.


At this stage, the balance of power was manageable (and would be during the next equally enjoyable album "Waiata"). Neil had his spot and success but Tim was still largely the front man but what is most noticeable is that although a song such as opener "Shark Attack" has the more recognisable (to that point, at least) staccato edginess of their previous work, the more rounded and classic style that Neil was bringing in , was causing Tim to raise his game too and so deliver equally impressive tracks such as "Poor Boy" and the beautiful "I Hope I Never".



The sibling rivalry can only be seen at that as a positive creative force, which still gave the entire band the room to keep their alternative slightly dystopian identity - hence the customary and surprisingly engaging instrumentals such as Eddie Rayner's "Double Happy" or the delightful "The Choral Sea" - but bring in a clearer pop sensibility on tracks such as Neil's "What's The Matter With You" or or the Beatles-esque "Missing Person".


The anniversary reissue went to number one in their homeland, New Zealand earlier this year and deservedly so.


So then we have a successful (though less so) follow-up which follows the identikit of its predecessor and a band (or at least the brothers) that gradually grew further and further apart. Each brother's contribution to the astutely titled album "Conflicting Emotions" was created almost entirely in isolation from each other - not least because Tim had managed to release a solo album - the deceptively good "The Big Canoe" in 1983 - which had not only sold well but been very well reviewed.


The typical brotherly dynamic perhaps was beginning to take hold. Two great talents both wanting to find more expression for their voice and Neil's becoming stronger in the band while Tim was finding success elsewhere. Tim left and one album later in 1984 the band under Neil's stewardship, unsurprisingly split, leaving the rest of the band bewildered, confused and profoundly sad.


Ripple dissolve to 1989.


Tim Finn had continued his solo career though to less success or acclaim whilst Neil moved to the US and formed a new band Crowded House, They released their self-titled album in 1987 which contained the wonderful "Don't Dream It's Over", a huge hit in the US and most of the rest of the world. With great expectation in 1989, they released their second album "Temple Of Low Men" but the reception was much more muted.


The songs were unsurprisingly for Neil Finn much darker and introspective - perhaps brought on by homesickness after endless touring and recording - and if listened to now, it really is a great album but at the time it really did not kick on beyond a very core bunch of fans. The band jokingly dubbed the album with its own nickname - "Mediocre Follow Up". They are being unfair on themselves but it did represent a move away from the sheer joy of the first album, full of hooks and melodies.


Crowded House now were at a crossroads but during a break from their tour Neil went away and started writing songs together with Tim - in Split Enz they had worked separately - ostensibly for a Finn Brothers album. When Neil returned to the studio to record the third album with Crowded House, he knew they needed to deliver and introduced the rest of the band to some of the songs he had been working on with his brother.


The band liked them and so Neil asked Tim if he could use them with the band. Tim agreed on condition he could join the band - in many ways reflecting Neil's introduction into Split Enz back in the late 70s.


So was born Crowded House's most successful global album "Woodface" which really catapulted them in Europe and especially the UK which they had, from their many years living there, always wanted to break properly.


This album was filled with some of the most touchingly intimate songs and yet it was almost derailed by its first single - indeed it probably torpedoed their career entirely in the US - "Chocolate Cake" which bore all the hallmarks of Tim's more edgy styling. It was a beautifully tight song but was also acerbic, satirical and alienating. No wonder affronted American audiences did not take well to it - especially as outsiders - along with the equally barbed "There Goes God". It also seemed lyrically irrelevant to airwaves outside the United States.



Thankfully, the return to hook-laden stone-cold classics such as "Fall At Your Feet" and "It's Only Natural" gained immediate radio play and the sales of the album went stratospheric. However, the two highlights of the album, whilst now very familiar to everyone, are as good as any of the so-called classics, "Weather With You" and "Four Seasons In One Day". I feel that these two tracks are so obviously redolent of their New Zealand home that you can feel the local reminiscences in every line.



They are both truly beautiful masterpieces that benefit from the kind of seamless harmonisation that is really only effective through genetic compatibility.


Tim's stay in Crowded House was to be short-lived as when they played live he was never comfortable with being a sideman - particularly in his little brother's band - and he walked out in the middle of the album's tour - never to return to the band. The brothers would come together periodically as Finn or The Finn Brothers with subsequent releases but these always felt very much like it was for their own pleasure than for any particular commercial intent.


It would seem that the relationship between the two hugely talented brothers has always managed to stay just about in check. Allegedly, they only had to be separated by road crew on a single occasion. It would seem that unlike some of their Northern Hemisphere contemporaries, they were well aware of their limitations with each other and let the pressure valves do their work rather than descend into a tawdry artistic spiral. Tim, in particular, seems to have been more than aware of his susceptibility to the fear of his younger brother's usurpation of his own front man role - with no malice aforethought I should stress.


I like the symmetry of these two album's stories with one brother introducing the other into their band's orbit in order to initiate a creative breakthrough. However, it is far too easy to classify Tim as bringing edge and Neil sentimentality - the truth is that they seem to have brought strong focus to each other's band.


Clearly, a fraternal bond is capable of developing a musical alchemy unlike any other. The song craft and lyricism of both "True Colours" (HERE) and "Woodface" (HERE) despite being a decade apart are testimony to that.


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