Stranger than Fiction, Larger Than Life: the Finn Brothers song-by-song discussion thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    "Big Canoe" presents a very Romantic view of the history of the Maori people: of their initial discovery of New Zealand, "The Land of the Thin White Cloud", their subsequent settlement and it touches briefly on the arrival of western colonists.

    Jeremy Brock gets a fair share of well-deserved stick on this thread, but he and Tim (who I assume wrote at least some of the lyric) do a pretty good job on this one.

    This song perhaps stands in contrast to the earlier "Six Months in a Leaky Boat"; the last verse also revisits the theme of colonization of Tim's earlier "Remember When". I don't see this as quite as sad as the more generalized "Remember When", but rather just an idea that dovetails with most of the lyrical themes of the album.

    The song's images are rather quaint and in a way old-fashioned that is probably more romantic for having been co-written by an Englishman and a homesick expat, both of whom see the exoticism in the country perhaps more than Tim had when he left the country in the seventies.

    Hurled me a rope around the sun
    Pulled her hot through the distant day
    Cast the nets out into the blue
    Caught me the islands fresh with spray
    Then I came to the virgin rocks and sandbars
    Shored the boats from the dancing waters
    There in the shadow of the Tokelau hills
    Burned me the fish for the moon gods daughter

    Big canoe, oh, cut me through, oh
    Thin white cloud of the Archipelago

    Eye of the hunter on the shadow trail
    Caught me the eel in the mountain stream
    Marked the spot where the Moa fell
    Sweat on the hands of my giant dreams
    Then we dragged the hardwood down to the shore
    Feet for the huts in the river's mouth
    Ploughed for the spice and the sweet potato
    Build me the tribes of the distant south

    We are the myths in the children's eyes
    We are their hope when the future lies

    The white ships came from tall lands far
    Full of the sword and the crucifixion
    I traded my heart for a tank of gas
    On a road of tarmac with new intentions
    Stared me up at the moon gods daughter
    Laughed she did at the fat man's laws
    Felt me the earth through three dollar shoes
    Heard the roar of a thousand oars

    I quite like the percussion on this track: a sample of acoustic percussive instruments blends with a big gated drum sound in such a way that the song seems both rooted in tradition and yet coldly modern and clinical; which actually suits the lyric of the third verse in which the "modernized" man reflects on what has been lost.

    The idyllic natural culture of all humans paved over with tarmac: and the end results are the louts like Timmy from the tribes of the simple streets, searching the streets for their soul, attempting to "turn water into wine" through criminality or sex.

    I also like the way the synth and the guitar blend sort of crash with every chord change, though the 80s texture of the sound there perhaps calls attention to itself a little too much at first.

    The melody is grandly cinematic, much like "No Thunder No Fire No Rain", another "story song"; and the music, along with the chant at the beginning manages to further evoke the Romantic notion of what are, for us Northern Hemisphere types, exotic faraway islands in the South Seas. There's a hymn-like feel to the song and I get a chill when Tim and the ladies sing "Aoteoroa! O, Aoteoroa!"

    Reading a bit on makes me realize that this song is, as @HitAndRun might say, "a marmite song". Opinions seem divided among those who think it's great and those who think it's nothing special. Count me among the former. For me it fires my imagination and I like every bit of it, including the ending percussive coda (though I wish it'd fade out, personally.) which somehow evokes the salt spray of the canoe coursing through the water from me.

    This is the third of my three "5s" on this album.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
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  2. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I do really like this song, but for me the lyrics (particularly the last verse) and the melody are very good indeed, but it's not quite a 5 for me. The production is good and appropriate for the topic. It's good to have an NZ song on a Tim Finn album, though the to-be-discussed Parhaka has better lyrics, I think.

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  3. Turk Thrust

    Turk Thrust Forum Resident

    I'm repeating myself again, but the production drags this song down several notches for me.

    I guess Tim intended this to be something of an epic, but the production is anything but. I strongly dislike the female backing vocals, the bass and the overall cheap sound of the song.

    The lyrics are fine and I can appreciate the intent, but only 2.5/5 for me.
  4. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    "Parihaka"!!! I don't know how I did that: I do know how to spell the word!
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  5. StefanWq

    StefanWq Forum Resident

    Vallentuna, Sweden
    I really like "Big Canoe" as a song. Both the lyrics and the music have a very cinematic feel to them, I can really picture the first Maoris travelling in their canoes in the Pacific Ocean to arrive in New Zealand on a bright summer's day. I visited New Zealand many years ago and the landscape is just incredible, from the beautiful mountains and lakes to green valleys. This song to me captures both the excitement of discovery of a new place and also the effects of colonisation and the clash of cultures. And like the Split Enz song "Remember When", the lyrics are written from the point of view of the indigenous people. My impression is that Tim is very interested in Maori culture so this song sounds like it's coming from the heart (unlike, say, "Water Into Wine" where my impression is that Tim is mainly adopting a character). The percussion and the strings arrangement really add colours to this song. Out of curiosity, does anyone know what Tim and the backing singers are actually chanting at the beginning of the song? I've always wondered about that.
    This is a lovely song and the only thing that prevents me from giving it the top grade are the backing singers' lead parts ("We are the myths in our children's eyes…"). To me, their voices don't blend all that well with Tim's.
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  6. therunner

    therunner Forum Resident

    I agree completely, 3/5 for me.

    I keep comparing this album with the first Crowded House that was released in the same year, and yet the production is so much better on the CH album. I try to imagine these Tim songs without the awful production and compare them, just as songs, to the CH ones and I think Tim's would stand up well against Neil's - which unfortunately for Tim is not how history has viewed them, with this album largely ignored while the CH album was much more successful.
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  7. Sebastian saglimbenI

    Sebastian saglimbenI Forum Resident

    New york
    Conjoined twin super-models?!
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  8. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    A more organic "classic" sound would help for sure. And yet, I think, as a fan of eighties R&B, songs like "Spiritual Hunger" and "So Deep" are really quite well-done; maybe a bit over-cluttered. What galls me is the guitar sound in the ballads and the relentless mechanical drums. It gets really old after the tenth day of listening.

    Sometimes both drums and guitar effects suit the song, but on other songs --gah.

    Neil was so lucky to find Mitchell Froom at this stage in his career(and lucky in other ways, too as we'll see.)

    I was re-reading the relevant parts of the Bourke book this morning (doin' my homework for this thread) and it really stresses how much Froom brought to the table; how Neil was coming from it from a primarily British-influenced sensibility and Froom brought the R&B earthiness and refused to let the engineer apply lots of guitar effects --Froom actually fired one of the engineers for that reason!; how Neil was gunning for more of a Tears for Fears sound and how David Tickle was almost chosen to produce Crowded House. Also that the engineer for Big Canoe was super-hot and famous at the time and Neil was worried that Crowded House would sound much worse; and look at the result. All those annoying sounds and the overall brittleness of it all are possibly the engineer's fault and Tim and Nick Launay may have been like "who am I to argue with this hot-shot?"

    Had Tickle ended up producing Crowded House I think it would have

    • sounded a lot more like Big Canoe, although a bit minimalized arrangement-wise because that's what Tickle does/did: he strips everything down to the bare hooks.
    • Songs like "Now We're Getting Somewhere", "Something So Strong", "Love You Til The Day I Die"and other songs would have been completely unrecognizable to what they became on Crowded House.
    Having said that, I just listened to Crowded House on a road trip and it's still pretty 80s.

    The chief difference is the drums are obviously played by a real person and not programmed (though the sound is still big, boomy and gated.) and most of the guitar effects sound more natural and less digitalized and cold. It all sounds bit muddy though; maybe that's the sound of Capitol studios.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
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  9. This song just does nothing for me. This is the song that rolls during the ending credits of a student film titled "Big Canoe."
    Generous 3/5.
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  10. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Denver, CO
    “Big Canoe” is a song that I want to like more than I do. There’s something jarring to my ears about the blend of the “tribal” drumming and the mostly excellent and evocative lyrics with the rest of the instrumentation, which is still very much of its time.

    The melody doesn’t really grab me that much, but I do agree that the song has a big screen feel to it. This is one that I think could have been a lot better than it turned out to be.

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  11. Paul H

    Paul H Senior Member

    Nottingham, UK
    Big Canoe is the song that takes me back to NZ 2006, and our epic trip round the islands. I cannot listen to this song without getting misty eyed. That the song is somewhat rose-tinted suits my mood perfectly because that it also how I remember the country. The song gets a full on 5/5, if for no other reason than it acts as a musical memory jogger of wonderful times.

    A side question: the accepted Maori name for the country is Aotearoa. I'm given to understand that the accepted pronunciation changed at some point from Ay-o-tah-ah-roh-a (or similar) to O (as in cot)-ta-roh-a. The change can be heard somewhere between Big Canoe's use of the former and Can You Hear Us's use of the latter. This all intrigues me because my understanding is that Maori was transcribed into English pretty much phonetically. So I can't quite fathom how it could have been mispronounced by the Pakeha, given that the spelling should reflect the pronunciation. I wonder if any Aotearoans might offer an insight.
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  12. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Our votes for "Big Canoe":

    Average: 3.75
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  13. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Today's song is "Hole In My Heart", written by Tim Finn and Jeremy Brock.

    Spotify: Hole In My Heart

    "Hole In My Heart" was a CD-only bonus track that is omitted from the vinyl and cassette versions of the album. It was also released as a B-side to "Carve You In Marble."

    I'm travelling for the five or six days around North Italy. If I don't post for a day or two, please assume that I've died in a fiery wreck on the Italian highway.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
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  14. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Big welcome back to a hopefully well-rested @Paul H.

    "Hole In My Heart"s lyric is serviceable: here Finn/Brock depict the "hole in the narrator's heart" as having been filled with the love of a woman.

    The spirituality theme is touched on( "You are my religion/I meditate on you") and Finn/Brock depict romantic love as not only being strengthening to the lovers experience it, but to those who observe them.

    Musically, this is a fast-paced pop-rocker chockful of horns and the usual densely-packed arrangements.

    I do think that it is puzzling that this song was relegated to "junior status" as a B-side/bonus track. In my opinion, it is certainly better than songs like "Water Into Wine", the upcoming "Are We One Or Are We Two" or (for my money) "Don't Bury My Heart."

    But it's hardly great. I think the arrangement works against the song, as perhaps it does on other songs. The song is fine: the melody is good, and Tim sings well. As usual, I like individual parts of the arrangements: especially the bass/guitar bit in the verses, which reminds me of Brian Wilson's high period; I like the horn arrangements and for some reason I find those cymbal/horn splashes kind of fun in a giddy sort of way. The guitar is a bit rockier and doesn't feature that annoying chilly effect.

    In the end, I feel like Tim's voice is competing with too much, though.

    I think this song, like so many other things in life, could benefit from a good strip, and perhaps a less frenetic pace.

    3.1/5 for me.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
  15. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Denver, CO
    "Hole In My Heart" is a bit of a return to generic-ville. It's very dated in most ways, sonically. The chorus has a decent melodic hook - actually one of the better ones on the album. I'm also a sucker for the jangling guitar that is heard throughout. I don't like the horns (or synth horns; can't tell if they are real or not) on this track. Otherwise, this is a decent album cut. I'm a bit surprised that this was one that was chosen for omission from the vinyl LP as any one of "Don't Bury My Heart", "Timmy", or "Water Into Wine" would have been better candidates for cutting. Perhaps this was chosen because it was shorter. Anyway, I'll give this a 3.3/5, mainly for the good melody and that jangling guitar.
  16. Paul H

    Paul H Senior Member

    Nottingham, UK
    Thank you. You've not holidayed with a two-year old, I take it! I'm back for a rest :)

    Hole in my Heart is another of the album's bland something and nothing songs. When Tim is on fire, he's really is, but when he isn't... well, the results are just so bland. And here's another example. 2/5
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  17. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I like Hole in my Heart. It's a catchy song, and would have benefitted from a better, more organic, production. It's a very good song for a b-side. The lyrics are OK. I'm not sure what breaking the walls down and letting people watch has to do with anything. Otherwise, the lyric is a quite generic love song. I think both the verse and chorus are equally good. Not excellent, but good.

    The guitars are less annoying on this song compared to some on the album but are still over-done. I agree that there's too much in the soup and both Tim's vocal and the guitars are competing with too much. It's good that it doesn't have that annoying synth bass that other tracks have - that would have wrecked it in my opinion.


    BTW: My decision was between 3/5 and 4/5.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
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  18. Turk Thrust

    Turk Thrust Forum Resident

    If someone nowadays was asked to write a pastiche of a 1980s song, this is what it would sound like.

    The big drums, the electric guitar sound, the brass and the cheesetastic lyrics.

    It does kind of have a charm to it, but I still wouldn't say that it's a good song.

  19. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I found that today when walking around, I had Hole in my Heart stuck in my head.
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  20. therunner

    therunner Forum Resident

    Yes, when it starts it always reminds me of "We Close Our Eyes" or "King Of Wishful Thinking" by Go West, which I also think of as 1980s pastiches.

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  21. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Me too, that part when he sings “ ba-de-ba-bah-pah” when the horns are going.
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  22. StefanWq

    StefanWq Forum Resident

    Vallentuna, Sweden
    "Hole In My Heart" is a solo composition by Tim, according to the credits on both the CD and the 7" and 12" singles. In 1986, CD was a fairly new format and the CD players were very expensive and to entice music enthusiasts to come on board record companies used to add bonus tracks that weren't on the LP. "Big Canoe" must have been the first album by either Finn to have been released simultaneously on both LP and CD. I have a "Big Canoe" promo book (a pocket-sized hardcover book in a slipcase) which features a prologue biography, lyrics to the 10 songs on the LP (each with illustrations) and an epilogue biography (or more like it, an epilogue nonsense babble). Neither "Searching The Streets" nor "Hole In My Heart" are mentioned in this book, so it seems Virgin at the time considered the LP to be the "definitive" version of the album.
    The song is to me a quality B side and much better than "Searching The Streets". I wonder if the reason "Hole In My Heart" isn't on the LP, and wasn't the B side of the first single either, may be that Tim thought the lyrics were very personal, maybe a little too personal for comfort. Putting it on a CD when most potential buyers would have chosen LP or cassette, and then on the B side of the second UK single (after the first one had sunk without a trace, making it less likely that a second single would get picked up by radio etc) might have been a good way to get the song released without it being heard by too many persons.
    Another reason might be that Tim thought it didn't fit in on the album and the "story songs" but that it worked better as a companion piece to "Carve You In Marble". I think it actually works better that way than on the CD. I bought the LP when the album was brand new in 1986 but only bought the CD more than five years later (after "Woodface" had been released and the "Big Canoe" days seemed a long way away). It seems misplaced on the CD, inserted between "Big Canoe" and "Are We One Or Are We Two", to me it disturbs the "flow" of the songs.
    As a song, I think it suffers from the same issue that several of the songs on the albums have, too many instruments. A more stripped down version, maybe just featuring Tim on vocals and piano, would have made the song better.
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  23. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Great post. Don’t know how I messed up the credit.
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  24. This is the song that's playing in the background on someone's radio in some throwaway scene in the movie I imagined earlier. 2/5
  25. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Our votes for "Hole In My Heart"

    Average: 2.55
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