The phrase “7 worlds collide” comes, within Neil Finn’s vocabulary at least, from the song “Distant Sun”. On it, Finn sings “seven worlds collide / whenever I am by your side”. But the real payoff is a less prominent but just as heartfelt “I offer love”. It’s with the same largesse that the Crowded House singer-songwriter has curated his 7 Worlds Collide project. The first time around, it was a series of concerts in New Zealand, with the resultant CD/DVD benefitting Medecins Sans Frontieres. That was seven years ago, but many of the artists previously involved have returned, family reunion-style, for the collaboration’s follow-up, The Sun Came Out.
This new album was recorded over a couple of weeks around Christmas last year and. Despite the short recording period, we’re presented with 24 tracks over two CDs – a substantial achievement. When you consider the caliber of the musicians involved in the project, though – Radiohead’s Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien, Jeff Tweedy, Johnny Marr, KT Tunstall, and a variety of Finns – it’s perhaps less of a surprise. In spite of their varied musical backgrounds, the artists are here to collaborate, and The Sun Came Out has its own shambling tone. It’s music your dad probably hasn’t heard, but could well like. And that’s how the economics of these benefit albums generally play out. Fodder for Father’s Day/Birthday/Christmas gifts, the well-intentioned thought too often ends up unheard under a stack that likely also contains the I’m Not There soundtrack, 1, and maybe War Child.
The feel-good glow of shared love informs both the intent and the content here. The songs across this double album aren’t always particularly memorable, but they feel suffused with the warm glow that obviously accompanied the recording process. The O’Brien/Finn jam “Bodhisattva Blues”, which comes at the end of the first disc, is exemplary. Set up over a simple blues progression, the song nevertheless succeeds in creating its own jangling uplift.
The family-band feeling of the album is bolstered by the collaborations between members of the Finn family itself. Neil’s wife Sharon sings on “Little by Little”. His son Liam (an increasing presence in his own right in Australia’s independent music scene) contributes throughout, most notably on the pattering duet with his father, “Learn to Crawl”. Sharon Finn’s limpid voice carries “Little by Little” surprisingly well. “Just make your mother proud,” she sings, and you can easily imagine her your own mother, projecting as she does such support and love.
The fact that Phil Selway, until now just a percussionist, wrote and performed his own songs for the first time should interest any Radiohead fan. His voice is smooth and heartfelt, his songs simple and childlike, informed by folk music’s idolization of family. But things are slightly twisted. It turns out the “ties that bind us” are “a kind of madness”. “The Witching Hour”, a subtler acoustic ballad, finds Selway wistful: “those I love will carry me home”. Across both songs, Selway shows a graceful, gentle side that we’ve not seen before.
Despite the fact that the compilation’s a bit too long, it’s obvious these musicians are in supremely confident form and having a ball playing together. From the opening chimes of Marr’s “Too Blue” (which sounds too happy by far for its title) to Jeff Tweedy’s relaxed but regretful “What Could Have Been”, it’s all feelings of good-times, polish-off-a-song-and-have-a-beer. The Sun Came Out might, in time, end up at the bottom of one of those piles. But listen again, and the open-heartedness can be hard to resist.