Ex-Split Enz Leaders Find New ‘House’
The buoyantly Beatlesque band Crowded House has recently gotten more crowded. In a familial way.
When the group plays Sunday night at Symphony Hall downtown, featured among the lineup will be new recruit Tim Finn, older brother of longtime band leader Neil Finn.
The band is also playing tonight at the Ventura Theatre and Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre. The shows mark the first time New Zealand’s famed singing siblings have publicly graced local stages together since their tenure a decade ago in the pioneering new wave outfit Split Enz.
The newest resident of Crowded House acknowledges that he bottomed out personally in the years between the demise of his former band and his current enlistment.
“I embraced a voluptuous muse, and, in a sense, my work suffered,” Tim Finn, 39, says of this “turbulent” period in his life.
Said muse was Greta Scacchi, Finn’s former love and the woman celebrated in a cover story in the current Premiere magazine as the most ravishing actress alive.
“I would hesitate--no, refuse--to put myself alongside an artist the caliber of Arthur Miller,” Finn says, “but at the same time, I do relate to the fact that during the five years he spent with Marilyn Monroe his work suffered. In fact, he didn’t do any major work during that period. And I think that Neil is kind of frustrated with me because he feels I haven’t done my best work in a long time.
“There’d been an ideal in my mind of what romantic love was since childhood, and I embraced it utterly--and then was consumed by it and spat out, I suppose. Neil said to me the other day that I’m an utter idealist and therefore constantly going to be disappointed.
“I certainly don’t think it’s anything heroic, to want to embrace life in a mythical way. There is a kind of childishness involved, and it does cause great suffering, but at the same time it’s the kind of suffering you can laugh at.”
It wasn’t just a broken heart that brought Finn’s mythic ideals back down to earth. His post-Split Enz solo career foundered, too, even as the fortunes of happily married kid brother Neil, 33, were rising.
Crowded House, formed by Neil six years ago after Enz’s demise, hit big with two American Top 10 singles in 1987, including the No. 2 smash “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” The band exuded freshness and maturity all at once: Fans loved the group’s handsome jocularity, while critics adored not only the music’s sophisticated sheen and brilliant hooks but also the less obvious brooding, self-doubting undertones that garnered Neil Finn a reputation as one of pop’s most formidable lyricists.
When Tim’s affair with Scacchi ended and his solo album went unnoticed, “it allowed me to reinvent myself, which I suppose is a privilege in a funny, perverse sort of way.” Instead of family or lovers, he found himself craving the security and community of a band.
The reinvention of choice for this former control freak: A new role as collaborator, sideman and second banana in Crowded House--a position he says he finds not humbling, but refreshing.
His recruitment came after the Finns sat down early last year to write together for the first time for a projected one-shot duo project. When the other House-mates--drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour--heard the material, they wanted to appropriate it. Neil proposed that they enlist not only the songs but Tim, too, and the results are on “Woodface,” Crowded House’s third LP, an album that deftly mixes the crazily romantic qualities of the band’s debut with the melancholy pallor of the undervalued second record.
If blood is thicker than water and relations are generally harmonious between the harmonizing Finns, the rancorous relationship that Tim nonchalantly describes does have overtones of Cain and Abel.
“The other guys in the band are appalled at how ruthlessly Neil and I judge each other all the time,” he says. “They can’t believe it. There’s constantly this simmering feeling of ‘You could do better than that,’ even if it’s seldom verbalized. I don’t know whether it’s healthy or not, because it’s very intense . . . but ultimately it’s supportive.
“Our relationship is very complex, and quite perverse in its own way. We’re both deeply twisted individuals. When we get together, we sort of twist on the same vine.”
Tim had to not only reforge his relationship with Neil, but to head off potential enmity from other band members who were initially wary of his joining, remembering his propensity for taking charge back in Split Enz.
“They were fiercely proud and protective of the band, and so they should be,” Tim says. “There was some resistance, but it only lasted about 24 hours, and after that everybody was incredibly positive. In a sense, there was a letting-go. And I was a big fan of the band, too, so I didn’t want to upset the chemistry. I was wary of it as well.
“Neil and I would never have sat around a table and thought, ‘Let’s get together.’ It was a real shock in a way, and yet afterward it seemed pretty natural and inevitable. It was only because of the songs, and that’s what it should be. The music should dictate the action, I think.”