A bundle of nervous words: The best of Neil Finn

What I wrote about Woodface last year:

This middling, tuneful approach was the mean for college rock and even produced crossover top forty hits until Nirvana arrived. In this one-off collaboration with older brother Tim Finn, responsible for fussy contortions of middling, tuneful material when he led Split Enz a decade earlier, Neil Finn wrote songs that sound like peat-tinged whiskey and smoke from beech trees. He proves himself a vocalist as subtle as his guitar lines, abetted on Woodface by his older brother’s high harmonies. Mitchell Froom is on his best behavior. “She Goes On” should’ve been as big as “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” This album was a hit everywhere in the world except the United States. Maybe the band fucked up by releasing “Chocolate Cake” as its first single. In the summer of 1991, I doubt “Don’t Dream It’s Over” itself would have hit #2.

I’ve got friends who will balk at comparing Finn to Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, but fuck it: these three and Marshall Crenshaw were the best writers of white, male chart-aspirational love songs of the eighties. I’m a sucker for that tug in his voice, man. Neil Finn can write’em and he can sing’em. There’s an aura of industry hero around him — how else do you get Eddie Vedder, members of Radiohead, and Sheryl Crow playing at his shows and covering his songs? Or it could be a tribute to his universality. “She Goes On” and “Can’t Carry On” have been talismans warding off evil for more than twenty years.

You won’t see “I Got You,” despite its ubiquity on early MTV and college radio; then and now it sounds like a songwriting exercise that got lucky.

1. She Goes On
2. Don’t Dream It’s Over
3. Better Be Home Soon
4. Fall at Your Feet
5. Never Be the Same
6. World Where You Live
7. One Step Ahead
8. Something So Strong
9. Can’t Carry On
10. Weather With You
11. Whispers and Moans
12. Private Universe
13. Message to My Girl
14. Recurring Dream
15. I Got You
16. Mean to Me
17. Locked Out
18. I Walk Away
19. History Never Repeats
20. It’s Only Natural

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