Neil Finn clearly enjoys a challenge and is, thankfully, blessed with the artistry to live up to the task he sets for himself on latest album, Out of Silence. While most artists spend months (or years) building up to a release, Finn, in lightning succession, put out the announcement, gathered together a group of musicians over a handful of sessions to record in front of a worldwide internet audience and then dropped the album a week later.
The results are a bit of magic, showcasing some of Finn’s best songwriting in recent years. There are plenty of characteristically grand choruses along with the occasional unexpected musical turn to keep us completely engaged.
The surprising thing is that nothing feels rushed here. If anything, the whole experience comes off as measured and incredibly well crafted. The recording process serves to imbue the piece with a great warmth and immediacy, which was probably the object of the task Finn set for himself.
Anyone who has followed Neil on Twitter knows how he enjoys a bit of genuine connection with the public. There’s no record company publicist running this account, just real interaction, including spur of the moment instances where Finn invites random questions (as long as they are not along the lines of: ‘What’s your favourite…?’). So Out of Silence is just a natural extension of this persona.
But it’s not just about Neil. One of the real stars of the record is Victoria Kelly, whose lush musical arrangements give the songs real depth and character. You might expect the record to sound a bit home-made, but this is certainly not the case. Brother Tim also shows up, sharing the vocal on the suitably plaintive ‘Alone’.
There are highlights throughout the record, opening up with the stirring beauty of ‘Love is Emotional’, making fine use of the assembled backing chorale, a foundation that is further built on with following track ‘More Than One of You’. ‘Chameleon Days’ drips with atmospherics through simple piano phrases and the falsetto voice that has become a feature of recent Finn work; it’s a fantastic track.
Rising from finger-picked minor chords into a stirring chorus, ‘Independence Day’ is perhaps the standout (but it really is hard to pick a favourite when every song here is a winner).
Meanwhile, ‘Widow’s Peak’ would fit nicely on The Hobbit soundtrack (tellingly the project on which Finn first worked with Kelly). ‘Second Nature’ is then really the only moment on the album driven by the rhythm section, and it thus makes for an effective change of pace.
The record closes out with a poignant trilogy of songs, with ‘Terrorise Me’, Finn’s elegiac meditation on the Bataclan tragedy, at the centre of this (and at the emotional heart of the album). On either side of this, we have raw and searching strains of ‘The Law is Always on Your Side’ and the handsome musical and vocal arrangements adorning the album closer, ‘I Know Different’.
In lesser hands, Out of Silence might have been a fun stunt with the process overwhelming the musical output, but in the hands of this master song-craftsman, it is one of the most beautiful albums of the year, and one that sits proudly alongside the extensive Finn cannon.
Out of Silence is available digitally from tomorrow, with the CD released on 15th September and a vinyl edition out in late October.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor