Liam Finn broke onto the music scene with his indie masterpiece I’ll Be Lightning in 2007, quickly establishing himself as a talented musician. The young Australian songwriter was under a certain amount of pressure, attempting to fill the large shoes of his father Neil Finn, of Crowded House fame. Clearly musical creativity and compositional ease were attributes inherited by Liam, as his flawless debut album demonstrated. The question then is if the EP Champagne in Seashells, what Yep Roc Records labels as a “sonic stepsister” to Lightning, can keep the successful ball bouncing.
The answer is: kind of. Teaming up with touring bandmate Eliza Jane was a wise move, no doubt, even if it ultimately seems like she is largely overshadowed by Finn. My initial belief was that Finn and Jane would be combining their talents more obviously in the fashion of soulful duets, singing arching harmonies like Robert Plant and Allison Krauss gone down under. The result is very different, with Jane riding for four out of five songs in this promotional vehicle’s backseat. It’s a wonder why she wasn’t featured more prominently on a record that gives her equal billing, especially after hearing her rich and sultry voice so lucidly on the closing tune “On Your Side.”
But this little album is full of inexplicable choices that work against its continuity and overall quality. The first is the conspicuous absence of the energy and potency of I’ll Be Lightning, which may or may not be intentional. To say this is a sea change would be inaccurate and a cheap pun, though it has to be said there is a soft transition on the EP toward something tinged with electronic whirlings and segues that strain the boundaries of their own usefulness. Take the six-minute “Won’t Change My Mind”, for example. It starts as a gentle ode to stubbornness, carried along by effects-driven guitars and a prominent bassline, but continues on pointlessly for its last two minutes with an out-of-place jungle theme. Maybe I’m missing out on their vision, because that bit of fluff should have been left in the nether regions of the recording studio’s data banks.
It’s a shame, really, as the spiraling intro of “Plane Crash” promises something much more powerful. The chaotic chorus offers the kind of kinetic potential that induces saliva to flow in anticipation, which is what every music lover wants. The bouncy jive of “Long Way to Go” showcases Finn’s falsetto skills and proclivity for crafting strong rhythms, while the organ recalls funk. “Honest Face”, while sincere, doesn’t possess the same kind of endearment Finn has proven capable of, coming off instead as a blithe, by-the-numbers pop song. There is a time and a place for this kind of music, it’s true, but that time and place is definitely not after releasing one of the finest and most complete rock albums of 2007.
This kind of disjointed casualness is what hurts Champagne in Seashells the most. That and the aforementioned fact that Eliza Jane is robbed of the opportunity to showcase her vocal skills more noticeably, which is to say she was prevented from adding a much-needed enhancement of the record’s sonic dimensions. The songwriting also relies too heavily on repetitious hooks that take the listener nowhere. That’s as frustrating as the safe sounds of the music. Where are the bold adventurousness, the whimsical verve, the breadth of imagination? Fizzing softly out at sea, it seems, as Finn and Jane do their own version of a Corona commercial on the beach.