Neil Finn has consistently proven his knack for crafting high-quality songs that combine irresistible melodies with meticulous lyrical detail, from his beginnings as the precocious junior member of Split Enz, through his leadership of Crowded House, and, finally, in his distinguished solo career. He has also earned considerable international commercial success, respect from his peers, praise from critics, and a devoted fan base that hangs on his every release.
Born Neil Mullane Finn, on May 27, 1958, in Te Awamutu, New Zealand, Finn cut his musical teeth as a child by performing for family friends, harmonizing with elder brother Tim. Neil took to piano early on, learning his favorite Beatles tunes and eventually writing his own songs, the first of which was putting music to a poem enclosed in a Donovan album. In the early '70s, Finn intently studied emerging singer/songwriters like Elton John, Neil Young, David Bowie, and Cat Stevens, while watching his brother Tim's band, Split Enz, become a force in the Australian music scene. Neil secured a few supporting slots for the Enz as a solo act, mixing his own originals with some well-chosen covers, accompanying himself on piano, guitar, and mandolin. By 1976, he'd formed his own combo, the After Hours, with lyricist/drummer Mark Hough and guitarist Geoff Chunn. Hough departed shortly thereafter, and Alan Brown was recruited for bass duties. The group showed a great deal of promise, but came to a relatively quick end when Phil Judd left Split Enz and brother Tim offered the slot to Neil. Just before his 19th birthday, even though he'd never played electric guitar before, Neil joined Split Enz as lead guitarist.
Neil stayed in the background for the first two albums of his membership -- 1977's Dizrhythmia and 1978's Frenzy -- but emerged with the infectious "I Got You" for True Colours. The single was an immediate hit, saving the band from obscurity and, most likely, from an imminent breakup. Split Enz enjoyed moderate international success for the next several years until disbanding in 1985. Neil formed an early version of Crowded House the same year, under a variety of names like the Mullanes and the Largest Living Things, with drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour (another guitarist, Craig Hooper, was also in the earliest incarnation of the band). Over the next ten years, the combo eclipsed the success of Split Enz, finding both critical acclaim and massive commercial success internationally, including a number two single in the U.S., "Don't Dream It's Over." In 1996, at the height of their success, following a Finn Brothers side project, Neil decided to dissolve the band in favor of a solo career.
Finn spent much of 1997 working on new material and dabbling in visual art at his New Zealand home. Finn's musical efforts emerged on his debut solo album, 1998's Try Whistling This, which featured new Finn compositions as well as tunes that were written for Crowded House but never recorded. Later the same year, Finn recorded a cover of the Johnny Nash oldie "I Can See Clearly Now" for the soundtrack of the hit animated film Antz. In 1999, Finn compiled and released Afterglow, a set of Crowded House rarities, and he closed out the year with a one-off reunion show with Split Enz for the millennial New Year's celebration. Finn's second solo album, One Nil, was released in March 2001; featuring guest appearances from Sheryl Crow, Lisa Germano, and Midnight Oil's Jim Moginie, the album wasn't released in the United States until May 2002, in a revised edition titled One All. By the time One All came out in America, Finn had already dropped another album elsewhere, a live album from a series of New Zealand concerts called 7 Worlds Collide that included guest appearances from Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, and Ed O'Brien of Radiohead. (Finn would revive the 7 Worlds Collide rubric for the 2009 album The Sun Came Out; released as a fundraiser for Oxfam, the album included contributions from Marr and O'Brien as well as KT Tunstall, Tim Finn, and several members of Wilco.) Finn put his solo career on hold for the next few years, teaming with Tim Finn for another Finn Brothers album, Everyone Is Here, and releasing an archival live album of Crowded House's final show, Farewell to the World, in 2006, prompted in part by the death of CH drummer Paul Hester. As Finn reconnected with his former Crowded House bandmates, they decided to reunite, and released a new studio album, Time on Earth, in 2007. A second reunion effort, Intriguer, was released in 2010, and the following year Finn unveiled a new project, Pajama Club, featuring his wife Sharon Finn on bass; their self-titled debut was released in September 2011. In 2012, Finn was invited to contribute a song to the soundtrack of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and "The Song of the Lonely Mountain" played over the film's end credits. In early 2013, Finn teamed up with another Antipodes pop icon, Paul Kelly, for a duo tour of Australia; the show spawned a live album, Goin' Your Way, which was recorded at the Sydney Opera House and released in their homelands in November 2013, while a belated American release arrived in December 2015. The year 2014 saw the release of Finn's long-awaited third solo effort, Dizzy Heights, produced by Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev collaborator Dave Fridmann. ~ Chris Woodstra