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

    "Wild Animal" is very much the conventional song of the album, with a much more ordinary structure, a focus on vocal hooks and bound to appeal to fans of pop and rock. I find the middle eight kind of a leap forward in terms of songcraft: it's got the kind of hallmark of earlier Liam ballads, where he spreads only a few words over a few longish notes, one syllable per note, something that I never feel works that well; but rather than it being the chorus or the verse, having it as a middle bit allows it to shine.

    Overall, this sounds like one of the better, less challenging Betchadupa tracks, for sure.

    I really like this one, but at the same time, I've been getting into the last two soundscapes so much, and the urban weirdness of the album in general that this display of traditional songcraft almost seems boring to me...By putting it near the end of this album (which, by the way, was a double album on vinyl) he is really de-emphasizing the "hit" of the album.

    But for some reason the conventionality of the song drives home a lot of quirky themes of Liam's work: there is this sense of the hopelessness of it all: this sense that he is basically a powerless human born in the late 20th century on a choking, gasping, dying world where nothing really matters but the utterly personal. No wonder he is irreverent.

    Anyway, ultimately I'll give this a 4.5/5. It's a lot of fun and a good-old fashioned poppish punkish rock song really never fails to hit the spot.

    AS we are approaching the end of this album, I am thinking that it would definitely be his best, but it's two songs too many.
  2. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I agree with @Lance LaSalle that it's a simple, more straightforward song. For me personally I think that Liam's more experimental work is sometimes too clever for its own good, and there isn't enough musical content to support the experimental nature of many of his songs. Liam clearly has it in him to write straightforward pop hits, but he chose a different path. It seems to me that for Liam all the ingredients are there to make excellent music, but he often falls short.

    I'm not saying that Liam should record more straightforward music. But, I think he would more suit my tastes if he found a way to enhance basically musically straightforward songs with his experimentation. Rather than (from my point of view) have experimentation instead of basic musicality.

    The best experimental artists, such as for example Brian Eno in my opinion, manage to do that. I think that some of Liam's more experimental work is built on slightly insubstantial foundations.

    I write this in response to Lance's post. I don't just like straightforward pop and rock, I like a lot of more experimental music too. So, the post prompted me to think about why I don't like some of Liam's experimental music.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
  3. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    I hear you but I never really understand what the first phrase means when people use it; like, literally, I don't understand what it means, I can't get any meaning from it. Maybe that says more about me than the phrase itself because I see it used very often.

    And as for the second I am also a bit lost as it is basically nothing but music: lyrics are certainly not his strong point, in my opinion: I guess you mean not hooky enough? Or with more emphasis on melody? Because I agree this album (but not so much the first two solo albums) definitely de-emphasizes melody.

    I also think that Eno's pop-oriented stuff is very much a product of his generation and to some extent also the studio system he was working within, which is all changed now. And, well, Liam may not be going for a seventies Brian Eno thing and he certainly seems to not want to be going for a Neil Finn thing, either.*

    However, I bet he has heard Eno and admires him.

    I think here with this album he was clearly trying to get emotional things out of his soul without much eye on how it would be appraised -- and let the chips fall where they may: i.e., people like it or not. So I kind of look at it as "what is he trying to express" and, then, "do I like it or not?" rather than "what could he do that I might like it more?"

    My criticism of this album is that it just drags in the middle, and seeing that it's an hour long, I wish he had cut those bits. Of course, on the other hand, he probably would not have cut what I want cut, and I note that all of our our opinions on this thread for the past several months have differed wildly and seldom converged on songs: what I like, someone else dislikes and vice/versa (same with the last several Neil albums too.)

    But that's OK. Liam's provided the raw material for a really good playlist, I think and that's all I need.

    I guess there's a lot of music from the 21st century that is far more popular than this that I like far less, though.

    I recently learned that Liam does the music for a TV show in New Zealand. He probably makes more of a living from that that any of his albums, including the Crowded House one. At the end of the day, he's managed to keep his head above water for more than 20 years in the music business without really compromising in the way that people seem to want him to do: and that is pretty much the only definition of success in my book

    *Related to that, I recently read an interview with Elroy Finn where he said he'd been writing songs since he was 15 but that they were "singer/songwriter songs" and that he didn't want to present that kind of music to the world; I remember thinking, ah, but thats what your father's fans would probably like. It occurred to me that these younger Finns (and they are really not that young anymore) may not want their father's fans.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
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  4. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I would say that 'too clever for it's own good' is where there is a lot of work put into the music, but it lacks inspiration. Music can be very experimental, but inspired.

    As to too little musical content, here's an example that explains what I mean. By musical content I don't just mean that it has rhythms, melodies, and chords. Imagine two songs. One has a verse and a chorus, both well written, arranged, and performed. But, where there is pretty much no musical contrast between the two. Then, imagine the same verse matched to a rewritten/rearranged version of the same chorus that has much more musical contrast. That results in a song that I find much more engaging and which maintains my interest. And, I feel that the additional contrast is part of what makes the song musical.

    Similarly, a melody can be musical, or not musical. Both have notes. One has something extra which makes it more musical in my opinion.

    I find a lot of second tier progressive rock unmusical. It has lots of notes and other things that make up 'music', but it's missing inspiration. A sequence of notes does not make a 'melody' for me unless it's melodic. In some way. Some of Kurt Cobain's guitar solos are a long distance from being musically conventional. But, they work fabulously. They're inspired. Some speed freak guitarists do solos which are more conventional musically, but I don't hear 'musicality'.

    In terms of the younger Finns, I think it's interesting to compare Liam and Elroy vs Neil to Harper vs. Tim. I would say that the differences in musical style between the sons and the fathers is equal. But, in Harper's music I hear more inspiration. I don't think I'm enjoying it more because it's more similar to the Finn music I know. I can see that Liam and Elroy would want to follow their own path and not just be a me too for the farther. But, Harper to me is equally distinct from his father, but still produces music that sounds inspired to me.

    Returning to experimental music, Brian Eno's album 'Neroli' has utterly no contrast at all. Which lead to the infamous Q review that it was just a synth going bong for an hour. But, I find that there's something in it that is inspired. Someone could have done something else which is a synth going bong for an hour that is uninspired. (Note: this is subjective, not objective.) So, I don't need contrast - it's not that. But, making unusual things work requires inspiration.

    Some of Liam's music doesn't sound inspired, subjectively to me. There are unusual and unexpected chords. Which Neil also uses. When Neil uses them they can just 'work' in a magical way. In some of Liam's songs, there's an unexpected chord which is interesting, but I don't find them musically engaging. Using such chords is part of what I mean by 'too clever for its own good'.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
  5. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter


    I guess I feel that they are subjective words or phrases that are masquerading as objective words or phrases. And then in the end it’s just the old prescriptivist versus descriptivist thing.

    I really strive for the latter and I have personal distaste for the former. I much prefer words like like, dislike, love, hate, don’t like, et cetera.

    I don’t want to be distasteful and compare two very different artists -- because Liam and Harper are very, very different -- in fact, they are really different generations, with Liam being Millennial and Harper being more Gen Z or Gen Y(or whatever it's called.) but I actually have to say that I think that I prefer Liam‘s music to Harper’s.

    I fully understand why people like Harper’s more: he’s just simply more commercial. And I definitely have great respect for what he does, he is clearly a very talented songwriter and singer.

    But, while I think Liam very much needs an editor, I overall prefer his music because of the very qualities that I think others dislike in it.

    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
  6. Anne_G

    Anne_G Forum Resident

    Wild Animal:
    Good hook and I like the guitar sound. Oh the quirks make me weary but I’ve started a playlist so we’ll see if that works better for me.

    Liam is like David Lynch. It is admirable and so hard to get an that an album/film to turn out exactly the way you saw it in your head. I admire that so much. But that doesn’t mean I am going to enjoy every minute of it.

  7. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    I enjoy every minute of David Lynch, I think. Except for that Dune film, but only because I haven't seen it.

    But not every minute of Liam.
    Maybe I do get this sense that Liam doesn’t quite develop his melodies like a pop artist “should”. And that he is not really even concerned with doing so. I guess the key to his music to me is seeing it as intensely, defiantly personal. And it’s also about the expression of the moment.

    It’s almost as if he is not concerned with what his audience wants. And thus I can definitely see why people don’t respond to it.

    I don’t think I agree it isn’t inspired, though. I think most music by anyone comes from inspiration. I just don’t see how you can sit and make a whole album by yourself without a massive amount of inspiration to get you through it. I think he truly enjoys making it and I think he is truly trying to express and communicate something through his music.

    But it’s not necessarily developed with an eye on what people want. (And I don’t like all of it—but that goes for almost anyone including the greatest of the greats.)
  8. KangaMom

    KangaMom Queen of the Quokkas

    Wild Animal - As others have noted, this is a more conventional song structure and a straightforward piece of music. For these reasons, it's more accessible to my ears. I will say, that it still has its Liam quirks. There's kind of a loopiness and cadence in his music that I definitely hear as his style and I really like.

    If I try and rewind to what I've heard of this album, this song kind of stands out but I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing. As a stand-alone song I think it's very good. In the context of the album I might be on the fence given the soundscape-y style that preceded it (and I haven't just listened to the album all the way through).

    I do have to agree with @HitAndRun about the cleverness aspect (our descriptions of this are very similar) - I think it's more I'll be getting along with a Liam song and really liking what is happening musically/lyrically and then anticipate what will happen and then it doesn't. It normally takes a turn somewhere else and I have to admit that this is just his style - but I always feel a little like he's showing me that he can be outside the conventional expectation. That's fine, it's just a little tiring having that happen a lot, and it dampens my response to what I had liked. (This is expressed very poorly...)

    I'll readily admit I'm entirely conventional when it comes to music. So maybe I'm not the audience for this - it's entirely true that I would never discover Liam without the gateway of Neil. That's not a bad thing. Most music is introduced to us by some means, whether it's friend recommendations, radio (back in the day), Finn thread at SHF (!). And that's not confined to pop/rock. I'd have never seen opera or listened to it if it weren't for being introduced to it by a friend and keeping an open mind...
  9. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yeah and classical music has really taught me that you can’t like everything. I don’t like opera, which means I miss a lot of Mozart’s supposedly greatest work, but so be it. I just like what I like and don’t like what I don’t.

    I guess the question for me is this: is Liam making unconventional choices because he is trying to dazzle the listener with his choices (which annoys some) or because he is simply bored with convention?

    I think it’s the latter; for better or worse I think he is making music primarily for himself. And I’m going to predict right now that the current line up of Crowded House probably can’t last too long. The gigs are probably a good pay check for him and he does have to kids to feed but it just feels like he is not comfortable in that role.
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  10. Paul H

    Paul H The fool on the hill

    Nottingham, UK
    His role in CH is an interesting thing. It seems to have echoes of Tim's arrival: very convenient at the time but hardly something you'd expect an established artist to do long-term. I guess the difference is that Tim and band struggled with the live side, which made it difficult for him to stay part of the band in any real sense. Liam can be a part of CH both in the studio and on stage and he can maintain a solo career in between CH albums. If Liam is happier being sideman in the band than Tim was, perhaps this iteration can have legs. But I'm jumping ahead.
  11. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yeah, you are right. Maybe if he is still able to get his freak on between albums/tours, the line-up could last.

    But Neil himself yearns to be free of CH sometimes and now they’ve committed themselves really to at least three years, since they are not touring the rest of the world until a year from now. It’s a long time for them I think. And when Liam does his record is he going to tour it?
    And will it have to take second fiddle to CH? Seems like an unbearable situation. What if Mick Fleetwood crooks his finger in Neil’s direction, too?
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  12. KangaMom

    KangaMom Queen of the Quokkas

    I didn't mean to imply that Liam was making those unconventional choices with the intention of "look at me" - that's just my response to it. I can see that others here don't get that vibe at all. I agree that his music is a reflection of his creativity - his musical style is his musical style. It's not always my cup of tea, but it's good music - I certainly don't subscribe to the idea that he is riding the coattails of his father. He's been a professional musician for 20 years. You don't get there without original talent and creativity.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
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  13. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    But, there are other artists who do something that is intensely, defiantly, personal and it's magnificent. Quite often more out there/less pop/rock than Liam and it's (subjectively) brilliant.

    I wish I had used the word 'subjective' more in some of my posts up above. For some of Liam's music, I just don't hear the inspiration. For some artists, it sort of happens that it takes time to get used to their music before you can hear the real brilliance of it. But, I've been hearing too much music of Liam's that doesn't appeal to me. When I tried listening to Lightsleeper, I found I liked it less than I remembered. I'm not warming up to Liam's music in general. Some of his music is sending me in the other direction and listening to more Liam music than I've ever listened to before in this thread is not helping. Subjectively.
  14. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Well it just means you don’t like his music all that much. I feel like you are trying to justify that but in the end I guess we can’t help what we like. I hate “Divebomber”, and “Lights of New York” so I get it.

    Meanwhile I’m smack-dab in the middle of a seven album slog of mediocrity in the Robyn Hitchcock thread, (which only covers about five years), at the end of Prince’s “imperial period”, and damn close to past Aimee Mann’s prime, so this album actually sounds pretty good to me.

    I like, well, 75-80 percent of it, by contrast. (Maybe only 60 percent of Betchadupa though.)

    And I love Lightsleeper, though I know that it is not popular around here.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
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  15. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    I wouldn't say I'm trying to justify my not liking some of his music; just trying to explain it. That is the point of threads like this: to discuss the music. For me, I don't think it's just a case of his music not being straightforward pop/rock enough. That's what I've been trying to say.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
  16. BeSteVenn

    BeSteVenn little-known member

    This discussion has been interesting. It appears I'm in the prescriptivist camp on a good many things, music, language, politics, etc. Without rules, things can descend into chaos, but I understand that rules have to change over time. We aren't still using thou and thee, the blues scale has become an accepted musical scale, 1619, etc. Stasis isn't a productive state, it would be a pretty boring world if all we listened to in the American popular song tradition were Stephen Foster, or whoever his antecedents were.

    I also find that I'm very inclined to be descriptivist at times. As a variation on Lance's "I just like what I like and don’t like what I don’t," on another thread someone said "You like what you like and should never have to apologize or rationalize it to others." I agree with that, it supports my wide-ranging taste in music. When rating music on these song-by-song discussion threads, it would be quite boring if everyone simply wrote "Pineapple Head, I like it. 5/5". That's not much of a discussion. I don't hold Liam's music to the standard of Buddy Holly, Randy Newman or Elvis Costello, they were/are songwriters who from the viewpoint of 2021 are all fairly standard songwriters, but each in their time really violated the then-current rules of popular song. I'm likely to compare his work, at least when I'm considering what it is that I like or dislike, to Godley and Creme or The Fireman. They created music that is well outside the boundaries of mainstream popular song, but also have written songs well within the unwritten laws of what a popular song "should be." They push themselves and their creativity to go outside of people's expectations when it suits their creative urges.

    When I write comments about a song, I try to say what it is about the song that I like or dislike in relation to the song's place in my usual frame of reference. Sometimes I fall into the trap of saying "this breaks all the rules, I don't like it," I should instead be saying "I don't enjoy it when I can't detect a reason for adding a-rhythmic or a-tonal sounds into what is otherwise a piece of music I would like, those sounds distract and detract from what I would otherwise enjoy."

    I hope I haven't irritated anyone on this thread, sometimes I get the vibe that I've really annoyed someone or other. Sometimes I might get a bit flip, but it might be because it's been a particularly rough day or week, and I can only come up with a quick quip to describe how I feel about a song. I appreciate the comments of all thread participants, I celebrate the differences of opinion, and I miss the people who have dropped out of the thread.

    This thread started long before COVID, and it's been a pretty constant companion through a very dark time. I will miss the thread when it winds up.
  17. BeSteVenn

    BeSteVenn little-known member

    Wild Animal sounds to me like a song Elvis Costello might do when he's trying to recover his lost glories of youth. I don't enjoy those tracks by Elvis, but I do enjoy what Liam has done here. It's a welcome return to conventionality after the experimentalism of the previous tracks, yet it's clearly Liam trying something different again.

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  18. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yeah. True that is the point; I am not picking on you I am just trying to anaylize and describe his music; it is more that your posts inspired mine. I think that Liam is kind of an unusual musician in a lot of ways and that bears discussion.
  19. dongelen

    dongelen Forum Resident

    I attended a show from the Nihilist tour with a friend, who is also a musician. He observed that Liam seemed so unconcerned by what the audience thinks and by what could sell. Nothing to make the songs "easier" for the public.
    Also: the band was big and had fantastic players. But with low ticket prices I got the impression that the band was paying to see me :)
  20. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    I say I’m anti-prescriptivist but it’s hard not to write something that sounds like that sometimes. Definitely one should not have to rationalize one’s opinion but on the other hand it’s much more interesting when someone explains why, as you point out.
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  21. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    The other night on his adverisement for his webisodes he mentioned he has recently realized that what he enjoys most is spontaneity and flying by the seat of his pants.

    That’s when I started thinking that the CH gig won’t last because it seems the exact opposite of how CH operates (nowadays.)
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  22. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    That is very much the impression I get from this album, though not really his other work.
  23. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yeah this is part of what fascinates me about him as an artist. I don’t think he is at the level of those songwriters either but what gets me and what has sort of captured me today is that I don’t think he is even trying to be. And I wonder if that is so truly weird or indicative of larger trends that are connected to the cyber-age or postmodern life or what-have you. In our fractured culture maybe just purely personal music and an attitude of audience be damned is normal.
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  24. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    That's an interesting comparison. I was trying to think of good examples of artists to compare Liam to. Godley and Creme work very well and help me explain what I'm trying to. For me, subjectively, Godley and Creme's music works much more often than Liam's does.

    Their song 'This Sporting Life' is I think an appropriate example. When I say that I find that some of Liam's songs lack contrast, it doesn't mean that I wish that Liam would write something more traditional pop/rock. It could be something like this song that has contrast and sections that maintain interest. In spades. Subjectively. And, there are even hooks in there while still being quite experimental.

    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021
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  25. "Wild Animal" is fun. I like this one and I would probably like it more if I listened to it more, as I feel about a lot of this album.


    I don't know if you can compare the two in CH because of the family dynamic - role in the band and side project not even being a part of the calculus. Liam is joining his dad's band, the end. Tim joined his little brother who by the way only got famous after I let him join my band's band. There's just no way, in my mind that they could ever perceive Crowded House or being a part of it in the same way no matter what roles they had or wanted.

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