Crowded House The Very Best Of Recurring Dream

Neil Finn's Five Best Albums

Until the emergence of Lorde, song-smith Neil Finn was New Zealand’s most recognisable pop export. Born in Te Awamutu, Finn was enamoured by the tuneful pop of The Beatles and Elton John. Still a teenager, he joined his brother Tim Finn in Split Enz in 1977, originally as a guitarist. He soon became a key writer, penning their 1980 breakthrough hit ‘I Got You’.

When Tim Finn lost interest in Split Enz, Neil formed Crowded House and enjoyed international success with songs like ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ and ‘Weather With You’. After Crowded House wound down in the mid-1990s, Finn recorded as a solo artist, with the collective Seven Worlds Collide, and in combination with other family members. He’s also reformed Crowded House for two further albums, and substituted for Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac.

Neil Mullane Finn has recorded music under many different entities, and I’ve listed the five best studio albums from his forty-year career. Finn’s also recorded some excellent concert albums; there was a great live disc included with some editions of the 1996 Crowded House collection Recurring Dream, and there’s a lovely joint live album with Paul Kelly from 2013.

Neil Finn’s Five Best Albums

Finn Brothers 1995

#5 Finn – The Finn Brothers

Neil and Tim Finn’s previous attempts at writing together had been folded into Crowded House 1991 album Woodface. Their first album together is low key, the two brothers playing most of the instruments themselves; Tim handles drums and Neil is on bass. There’s fun garage rock material like ‘Kiss The Road of Rarotonga’, but it’s the pretty ballads like ‘Last Day of June’, ‘Angels Heap’, and ‘Suffer Never’ that make this album a standout in Finn’s career.

Neil Finn Out of Silence

#4 Out of Silence – Neil Finn

Most of my favourite Neil Finn material comes from the 20th century. 21st century albums like The Finn Brothers’ Everyone Is Here and Crowded House’s Time on Earth are too subdued and too close in tone to past triumphs to register. But Neil Finn’s recent work has been more inventive, and Out of Silence purposefully stakes out new ground. Finn recorded these songs live in-studio while broadcasting to the world. He showcases his gorgeous piano work and is backed by strings and a choir of notable New Zealand musicians. There’s an underused falsetto on ‘Chameleon Days’ and the strings shimmer on ‘Love Is Emotional’.

Crowded House Temple of Low Men

#3 Temple of Low Men – Crowded House

Crowded House’s second home stalled their momentum in the USA, after ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ had achieved number two on the US charts. Temple of Low Men is a darker album than its predecessor, and there’s nothing that sounds like a hit single, so the lack of commercial success is understandable. But Temple of Low Men is one of Finn’s most consistent efforts – it features beloved tracks like ‘Into Temptation’, one of many songs where Finn draws on his Catholic upbringing, and ‘Kill Eye’, which could pass for a John Lennon song from The White Album. The politely funky ‘Never Be The Same’ is one of my favourite Finn deep cuts.

Split Enz Time and Tide

#2 Time and Tide – Split Enz

When Neil Finn joined Split Enz in 1977, they were in a state of flux. Finn replaced Phil Judd who, together with Tim Finn, wrote the band’s early art-rock material. The band struggled along before stripping down their sound to new wave pop for 1980’s True Colours, and their most successful period was in the early 1980s. Their best record from this period is 1982’s Time and Tide; while most of Neil Finn’s Split Enz material is very good, it’s Tim Finn’s writing that elevates Time and Tide, as he drew on his failed marriage and mental health struggles. The anxiety of ‘Dirty Creature’, the isolation of ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’, and the autobiographical sea shanty ‘Haul Away’ overshadow Neil Finn’s songs, but he contributes typically excellent work like the jaunty ‘Take A Walk’ and the sci-fi tinged ‘Giant Heartbeat’.

Crowded House Together Alone

#1 Together Alone – Crowded House

Neil Finn’s work is often a little too polite and mannered. Together Alone remedies this by pairing Finn with wildcard producer Youth, and recording on the isolated New Zealand beach of Karekare. Together Alone features Crowded House at their most beautiful, like the atmospheric ‘Private Universe’ and ‘Catherine Wheels’, but also at their rawest on songs like ‘In My Command’ and ‘Black and White Boy’. Together Alone is also significant in marking Finn’s return to New Zealand after years living in Australia, as marked in the Polynesian flavour of the title track.

There is a tendency for Finn’s best-loved songs to feature on less accomplished albums:

  • Finn’s best-known song, US #2 single, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, appears on Crowded House’s eponymous 1986 debut. Overall the album’s writing is less mature than Finn’s later Crowded House efforts, and the bright 1980s production is distracting.
  • Crowded House’s 1991 album Woodface features some of Finn’s best-loved songs, including ‘Weather With You’, co-written with Tim. But the album suffers from CD-era bloat – cut the 14 songs down to 10 or so, and it would be one of Finn’s best.
  • Finn’s 1998 solo debut Try Whistling This is another record that could have used a trim – losing the last four songs would have worked. ‘She Will Have Her Way’ is a fun singalong, and ‘Sinner’ is Finn at his most brooding.

Are you a fan of Neil Finn’s work? Do you have a favourite album?

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  1. I had Woodface and Together Alone on CD, but I didn’t listen to them an awfy lot. A pal of mine was really into Try Whistling This and while I could appreciate that Finn knows how to craft a tune, I just never felt all that excited or moved by what I heard. It’s nice enough, but I guess that’s the problem.

  2. Quality song writer with a gift for melody. Great voice too. Some of his lyric writing makes me wince but he gets the job done for the most part! Liked the story n sound of together alone…a doco on the album being recorded would have been great…do you know if there was one? Beautiful part of the world up there

  3. I’m looking forward to checking out that album you mentioned – ‘out of silence’. Never heard it, or heard of it. His voice has aged well so I’ll give it a spin

  4. I think we had this chat before. I don’t listen to Neil enough but when i do I always say “I should listen to this more”. I always felt Neil (CH) should have busted out a rockabilly album.
    On a related note. A while ago when we first started swapping music I told you about an artist i liked, Andy White. Andy and Tim Finn cut and album, ALT. I have been on the search for it for a long time.

  5. Wow. Big call… five from forty years.
    Very happy to celebrate the No.1 spot with you. “Together Alone” is an outstanding achievement by any popular music measure.
    If I can make the time, I’d love to offer my 2,3, 4 and 5. I’m pretty confident “True Colours” will figure, probably at #2. And I love the first Crowded House album, finding no difficulty hearing through the production to the freedom and exuberance of the LP. Probably #4.
    So just a couple to go…

  6. I’m too new to Mr Finn’s songography. I’m deep into Crowded House’s original run at the moment and agree that Together Alone is the strongest – though it’s a bloody strong catalogue full stop.
    Anytime – I think it’s from Try Whistling this – is a favourite from the little of his solo work I know

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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