When Crowded House disbanded after a string of wonderful albums, I figured we’d at least have a steady stream of solo discs from group leader Neil Finn to turn to. It hasn’t worked out that way, though. Crowded House performed its farewell concert in November 1996; and while Finn has been busy in the 17 years since then with assorted musical projects (including a group reunion that began in 2006), the new Dizzy Heights is only his third solo album and his first since 2001’s One Nil (released as One All in the U.S. in 2002).
He has said he didn’t want to make the latest album “in a stripped-back singer-songwriter sort of way,” and he certainly hasn’t done that. He has long had an affection for psychedelic touches and sonic landscapes (listen, for example, to the beginning of 1998’s “Try Whistling This”); but thanks perhaps to indie-rock producer Dave Fridmann, the focus here is sometimes more on lush, experimental soundscape than on song. In places, such as “Pony Ride” and the ethereal “Divebomber,” Finn’s vocals actually take a backseat to the music.
When his singing does come to the fore, it evidences changes. Finn uses a lot of falsetto here; believe it or not, the latter part of the excellent “Recluse” sounds like something that could have issued from the disco-era Bee Gees. As for the lyrics, many of them seem redolent of what late '60s bands like Procol Harum and Jefferson Airplane delivered. A sample, from the title cut: “Smoke drifting up to the dizzy heights, where the elevator won’t come down and the ceiling cracks like a treasure map.”
On the one hand, I’m disappointed that vocals by this fine singer don’t figure more prominently in some tracks; a few numbers, such as “Flying in the Face of Love,” feel like mere filler; and nothing here seems quite as strong as such past triumphs as “The Climber,” “She Will Have Her Way” and Crowded House’s “Into Temptation” and “Four Seasons in One Day.”
On the other hand, there’s much more to applaud on Dizzy Heights than Finn’s willingness to experiment. He still delivers strong melodies and evidences a likeably heavy Beatles influence, and the best of this CD is fine indeed. Among the tracks I keep coming back to are the dreamy album closer, “Lights of New York,” where Finn’s vocal is the key element, and the addictively hooked title cut, which sounds as if it would fit right in on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.
I can’t call this my favorite Neil Finn album, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be playing it often.