any long years ago, my younger brother introduced me to a really strange album with the really strange name “Waiata.” I discovered before long that it really wasn’t so strange. Eventually, I also found that the band, Split Enz, was founded by two brothers, Neil and Tim Finn.
Over the years they’ve been the forces behind Split Enz and Crowded House, and recorded as The Finn Brothers, as solo acts, and with other performers. In 1992 I stumbled across Tim’s 1986 release “Big Canoe” and it’s been a favorite ever since.
Born in New Zealand, Finn’s music has some of the Celtic rhythym and occasionally obscure lyrics common to Aussie and Kiwi bands. The influences of indigenous music are much subtler than Paul Simon’s “Graceland” but a careful listener will hear them. Finn’s keyboard playing is rarely the star of the song; instead, his carefully phrased vocals give his lyrics the spotlight they deserve. Strong rhythyms from bass and drums play a part in even the quieter tunes, but only grab your attention when it’s their job to do so.
- “Spiritual Hunger” – The lyrics of this syncopated upbeat opener still mystify me. Tight, short guitar solo.
- “Don’t Bury My Heart” – A strong string section gives a ‘movie soundtrack’ feel to this ballad of unrequited love. “I was trying to forget the way you smiled when you said goodbye . . .”
- “Timmy” – About a kid who just can’t stay away from the disco; by the time I heard this song on the radio, I was so used to the Split Enz proto-thrash sound that a nearly disco tune confused me. Now, listening to the trumpet solo and the aggressive soul backing vocals, it’s obvious why Timmy can’t stay home on Saturday night. (Wait; a song about a guy named Timmy, by a guy named Tim; wonder if there’s any connection?)
- “So Deep” – Are we spiritual animals, or bestial spirits? Most lines are juxtapositions of the beautiful and the beastly:
A thousand butterflies lifting away, while the hunter pursues his wounded prey . . .
It is so deep.
- “No Thunder, No Fire, No Rain” – From the complex opening guitar and strings, it’s clear this song is has a different attitude from those before it. Martin, a young Maori villager who works in the local chemical plant, is killed in an industrial accident the day of his wedding. The verses depicting Martin meeting death alternate with the gentle loving picture of his bride-to-be preparing to share his life, tragically ignorant of his death. A stronger native rhythym permeates the song, which ends with a slow sad string section fading to silence.
- “Carve You in Marble” – For once, the piano stars, creating a beautiful introduction which makes me think of Beethoven, whether or not it is really like his works. Keyboards appear, swirl around, and fade; punctuating this song about immortalizing his love. I for one am glad that Finn sculpts melodies rather than carrera. Although all the references in the lyrics are vague, it has an intimate feeling.
- “Water Into Wine” – After the grace of “Carve You in Marble” the initial crash of “Water Into Wine” is jarring, which fits the shift in subject matter perfectly. About a class ‘A’ jerk trying to convince his girl that he’s really going to score big this time; “We can make it this time; just tell me we ain’t over yet.” By the end, we’re pretty sure the loser’s brilliant drug-smuggling get-rich-quick scheme (“It’s just like water into wine!”) isn’t convincing anyone, not even himself.
- “Hyacinth” – If men go crazy for the smell of a deluxe pizza or a thick steak grilling, why is it we expect our women to smell like delicate flowers? Therein lies a mystery I’m no closer to solving than any other man in history.
- “Big Canoe” – Aboriginal percussion introduces a not-entirely-sad look at the changes wrought on ancient cultures by the encroachment of more ‘advanced’ peoples. The only song I’ve ever heard use the word ‘archipelago’ in its chorus. As the music fades, the percussion comes to the fore, continuing until we’ve got the rhythym firmly in mind, at which point it suddenly becomes the in-your-face electric guitar of
- “Are We One or Are We Two?” – Guitars nearly flailing, a string section much more aggressive than you might expect, and a poor befuddled erstwhile lover wondering what’s going on here, anyway? As the whole thing collapses in a heap, the final sounds of the album are a pair of drumsticks being tossed across the room, clattering to the floor.
The CD version includes two extra songs, “Searching the Streets”, with a very interesting jazz/country guitar solo, and “Hole in My Heart”, which does a wonderful job of emulating a 60s love song and still fitting the rest of the album.
Oh yes; “Waiata” is finally available under its original release name, “Corroboree.” Perhaps we’ll revisit it someday; magical tunes like the piano wonder “Albert of India” deserve further scrutiny.