on 25 February 2014
It's with a heavy heart that I say that this is the least enjoyable 'mainstream' album Neil has released in 30 years. I was bouyed by the 4-star reviews (on Neil's website) that professional reviewers have given this album across the world. That says more about professional music critics, who would rather have a chin-stroking album than something, er, commercial. You can have both anyway ; to me TOGETHER ALONE is one of the best albums EVER made - tuneful, soulful and deep. Overall, it (and WOODFACE) were memorable. This album is not. It might be meaningful - but the reason I listen to Neil Finn music is because there is a tune. Sadly half of this album is devoid of a tune. As I say, I'm rather devastated that the album is so average. It's not all bad - there are 4 songs here that could have gone on any Crowded House album - but as for the other 7 - they are really B-side-ish. I shall still be seeing Neil live soon (7th time) - but secretly hope that he only plays 4 or 5 songs from this album, and sticks to his 88 - 08 heyday.
on 12 February 2014
OK, so I'm the first on here with five stars. Here's why.
Like those people who got to see that other Neil play all of his 'hits' at the Carnegie Hall the other week, there's a longing for the magic moments that started the relationship, whether it be Old Man, Harvest or Southern Man or, in this Neil's case, I Got You, Don't Dream it's Over or Fall at Your Feet. Every new album is often laid side by side with the 'favourite' and conclusions - usually underwhelming ones - rapidly reached. I can see that syndrome in some of the other reviews on here.
I didn't like Try Whistling this, but was blown away by One Nil and eager to see whether Dave Fridmann would be to this album, what Youth was to the outstanding Together Alone. Have only listened twice through so far and the impressions are very positive. Unlike the other reviewer I loved Divebomber and it hasn't left my playlist since. To be fair, there isn't anything like Divebomber on Dizzy Heights, but I'd argue there isn't anything like Divebomber anywhere at all. What there is, is that familiar minor-chord beauty to the melodies, which often takes some time to reveal itself (White Lies and Alibis being a great example), combined with some more 'obvious' tunes, such as Recluse and some more soulful, beat-driven tracks like Dizzy Heights itself and Flying in the Face of Love.
There are elements of the album which reflect Peter Gabriel's drum-heavy, eastern-tinged orchestral stuff (bits of the afore mentioned White Lies and Alibis recall Signal to Noise) and also some that strip everything back in favour of a fragile voice (Lights of New York). But there is much to love here, much to let get under your skin. It's a brave step forward, an unexpected approach and, in my view at least, a triumph. Now if I only had the cash to see him at Gateshead ...
on 24 March 2016
Impressions = Great opener awash with harmonies, atmospherics bolstered by powerfully solemn drum signature.= 4 stars
Divebomber = This track is absolutely sublime. Sigur Ros - meets Mercury Rev meets Bladerunner esque sound scaping.
What a great shame that the rest of this album isnt this experimental and edgy = Emerse and embrace. MASTERFUL Stuff. = 5 stars
White Lies & Alibis = An orchestrated ambient exploration of Finn & Gabriel worlds recalls echoes of Private Universe = 5 stars for the song and NO stars for the irksome and pointless ONE minute TWENTY second waste of my life masquerading as an "INTRO"
Better than TV, Pony Ride and Impressions are passable, but the title track is an absolute stinker.
The only reason that a decent song such as Better than TV has been swamped by the awful string arrangment dumped on it, is because the "band" have only put the barest of bones on the track in the first place. If Finn got himself a decent bassist and drummer and actually bothered to orchestrate the track himself, as is normally the case, then this would be a stand out cut on the album.
Frankly and sadly, the rest sound like a load of bits and pieces and out takes that NF has had in his locker gathering dust for twenty years or more.
Download: Divebomber, Impressions, White Lies and Alibis.
Sadly, there is not an entire album of similar material and the remaining nine tracks are largely over produced average mainstream fillers You can't raise the bar as a high as NF has and subsequently resort to limbo level.
One Nil is a superb collection of beautifully crafted songs by one of the Worlds truly great songwriters. This in comparison is not good enough by a mile.
'Dizzy Heights' is very definitely a 'grower'. On first listen I found the album hard to love and apart from recognising the riff from 'The King Of Rock' N' Roll' by Prefab Sprout as the backing behind the jaunty 'Flying In The Face Of Love' failed to really get into any of the tracks...
Opening with the strange, layered but muddling 'Impressions' did not help and while the brighter, more poppy title track and aforementioned 'Flying In The Face Of Love' are easier to follow the fourth track, 'Divebomber' is another deviant child that is hard to love. This theme of perpetually overturning his own applecart is a recurring problem on this record and unless you give the album a few spins 'Dizzy Heights' is likely to only get one play before being discarded by most.
Another hugely irritating side to proceedings is the way in which on some songs Neil's vocals almost disappear behind a wall of instruments. I get the 'artyness' of it sometimes but on songs like 'White Lies And Alibis' it really gets in the way. For Split Enz fans, "In My Blood' is quirky and brings back happy memories of the 80's and 'Recluse' is another quirky song with meaningful (and very true) lyrics. Both 'pop out' from behind the settee at you on second listen making you wonder why you didn't care for them first time?
Sadly, the album ends on the pretty dire 'Lights Of New York'. A funereal dirge, Neil's voice is not at all suited to what he tries (unsuccessfully!) to do with it on this occasion and thus the album ends on a low point...
Overall, I would say that 'Dizzy Heights' has the potential to weave its way into your affection but only after a few spins. The question is will you dedicate that much time and effort into allowing it to?
7 out of 10.
It's one thing to respect an artist for refusing to play it safe, but it's another thing entirely to actually enjoy their deliberately non-commercial work. I'm a fan of Neil Finn... mostly. I think he's a great bloke and believe that he has written some of the greatest songs of the last thirty years, but he has also been responsible for a lot of rather underwhelming stuff too ("Try Whistling This", "Finn", "Pajama Club"). "Dizzy Heights", for me, belongs in the latter category and is only rescued from being something I will file away and never listen to again by a handful of songs. Being mindful of the fact that one of my favourite albums of all time Crowded House's, "Together Alone", took quite a few plays to fully appreciate, I decided to give this album a good hearing before committing my thoughts into words. Sadly, this is no "Together Alone"; it could, of course, be argued that very few albums measure up to such a great album, but "Dizzy Heights" isn't even an "Intriguer".
There are a handful of songs which stop this project from being a bit of a dud. The title track has hints of greatness - it's a light, sunny pop song, with splashes of strings and a slight soulful feel to it, like a decent World Party single from the nineties whereas the likeable "Flying In The Face Of Love" has elements of one of Tears For Fears' more smooth efforts. When I heard it a few weeks before the album was released, I was utterly intrigued by lead single, "Divebomber", which has a distinct Mercury Rev feel to it and still now consider it to be one of the most inventive, melodic, captivating pieces on this album. Surely putting it out as a single was an act of mischief, though? "Recluse" works well, with some entertaining lyrics and is very pleasing to the ear, musically, and my last pick of the album is the genuinely good "Strangest Friends" which sounds a little like it could be an album track from Bowie's last album, "The Next Day". "In My Blood" deserves an honourable mention too, for sounding like the only track on this album which could probably fit in on a Crowded House release. However, none of these songs could be called a work of genius - even the best tracks on "Dizzy Heights" don't compare favourably with most Crowded House B-sides.
Let's face it, if you're a Neil Finn fan, you will buy this album anyway. It's not a bad piece of work, but that's about as generous as I feel I can be - it's average. There are a few songs on here that make it just about worth buying, but I suspect that most people will find themselves respecting Neil's artistry on the album without actually really enjoying it that much. It's listenable, it's inoffensive, it's well recorded, performed and also relatively original - but it doesn't particularly excite, isn't leftfield enough to at least be seen to be stretching boundaries and also fails to connect on an emotional level throughout the vast majority of the material on offer here. When you know what Neil is capable of, it's difficult to feel anything other than frustration when you listen to "Dizzy Heights" and look forward to the next Crowded House project when, hopefully, he will be forced to break out the real melodies. Sorry, Neil.
Dizzy Heights is Neil Finn's third solo album, following Try Whistling This (1998) and One Nil (2001). The most striking thing about it is the eclectic mixture of styles - for example there's the gospel-tinged opening track "Impressions", the funky "Flying in the Name of Love" and the wonderfully bluesy and sometimes oblique "White Lies and Alibis". The distorted vocals and different musical approaches were slightly unexpected, but it's a welcome change.
Part of the reason for Finn venturing outside of his usual comfort zone is down to producer Dave Fridmann. Best known for his work with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips, Fridmann's production certainly makes an impression - amongst various production flourishes are very well arranged strings on several tracks, which enhance the songs no end.
Particular highlights of the album are the title track with its dreamy vocals and a slight ELO feel, "White Lies and Alibis" which is one of the more experimental tracks and "Pony Ride" which very much has a Split Enz vibe.
There's no denying the quality of Finn's work over the last three decades or so and Dizzy Heights is another strong album, although as it's quite different from a lot of his previous work it might not appeal to all.
And whilst it's fair to say that it doesn't all quite come off, some songs do feel like they're slow burners which may click eventually - so there's plenty here to enjoy. Recommended.
on 7 January 2015
I bought this CD prior to seeing Neil Finn live in Birmingham. Different to his earlier work but no less brilliant, really helped by hearing the same songs live in concert. The stand out song for me is Divebomber, followed by Better than tv and Pony ride. I know it's often said but this album really is a grower. Great stuff.
on 2 May 2014
Having loved pretty much every album Neil Finn has been involved in, this is the first one that left me feeling rather "ho-hum" about it on early listenings. Its not the quality of the song-writing or the quality of the music or the production - which are all top notch. It just all sounds a little too ethereal and uneventful. It seems to have the production values of a Sade album - silky smooth, but ultimately boring.
So, it was with some trepidation that I went to see him live last week. And, boy, I couldn't believe how good the songs of this album sounded live. They were astoundingly better. The drums, live, were strong and driving - unlike the rather tasteful, but subdued ones on the album. In particular "White Lies and Alibies" was altogether more involving, varied and powerful. "Divebomber" is clearly a track that folk either love or hate. I love it - it was the only track that I did love before I went to his gig. And it works surprisingly well live. Ok, he didn't play all the songs of this album, but the 4 or 5 that he did were among the highlights of the gig for me and my partner. The melodies and light and shade in each of those songs was magnified ten times.
Now, when I listen to the album, I can hear the details and variation in the songs much better. And I find that most of Neil's songs sound better live than on the original album. Neil himself has said that the recording process is the wrong way round. ie. that recording them first then playing live and evolving them would produce better albums if he could tour the songs first. I just hope that at some stage Neil does a live album of his solo stuff.
I suspect this is an album that sounds much better on hi-end audio equipment with headphones or a quiet room (which I haven't had chance to do). It certainly doesn't work particularly well in the car, or played at low volumes.
on 1 May 2014
For those who prefer Woodface and Together Alone (one of the best ever!), I suggest carry on listening to them! If you want something new and inspiring, listen to Dizzy Heights. I am one of his Finn's greatest fans and saw him recently in Newcastle but it always takes me a few listens to understand and infiltrate any album of his. I would suggest listening to these songs live though - they were really exceptional. the sound if fuller with different production values, heavy reverb on vocals and effects but the lyrics and songs are still there. Exceptional album from an exceptional songwriter.
I heard an advance copy of 'Divebomber' and thought 'ouch'. But then again, I almost wish I hadn't, because music streamed over the internet always sounds awful and 'Diverbomber' is such a delicate, fickle work that it's only with headphones on late at night that you get its kaleidoscopic effect in all its fullness.
I mention 'Divebomber' first, because it is very indicative of the album, perhaps more so than the (rather lovely) title track. Neil Finn's solo records have always been coloured by an experimentalism you wouldn't necessarily associate with Crowded House. What's interesting for me is that Neil has often had a heavy hand in the production of 'One Nil' and 'Try Whistling This', (for me with mixed results - some of One Nil I really struggled with), whereas on this occasion he has perhaps been more mindful of the effect Youth had on the seminal, dark final Crowded House album 'Together Alone'. Therefore Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev / Flaming Lips) has been bought on to this record, with startling effect.
I can't think (other than Together Alone) of a more interesting, organic tracklist of any of Neil's work. For example, the dizzy, gospel-tinged 'impressions' that opens the album wonderfully segues into the title track 'Dizzy Heights' by way of some looped/skipped strings that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand whenever I hear it. Ditto for the intro and punchy laser effects which accompany the lyrically brutal 'White Lies and Alibis' towards the end of the album. The use of strings is a firm thing that marks this out from other Neil albums and they are always used interestingly..
For me there are many stand out tracks on the album ('Recluse' and 'In My Blood' worth particular mentions), but what makes this album stand out for me is the bold and uncomprimising choices Neil continues to make in his music. Love it or hate it - he's a true artist in every sense, continuing to grasp for something just out of reach. Definitely worth a check and a few considered lessons if you're sitting on the fence and haven't got this yet.