Pajama Club: Pajama Club

Neil Finn forms his own husband'n'wife band. Think more Sonic Youth than Wings.

Pajama Club

Pajama Club

Label: Lester
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-09-19

In 1998, Neil Finn released his first solo album, Try Whistling This. The title was a reference to Finn's reputation as a writer of unabashedly melodic songs. With Split Enz and then Crowded House, Finn was responsible for some of the most accomplished, McCartney-esque pop music of the 20th Century. But like McCartney before him, Finn had developed a complex. The very traits that made his music so timeless also left him open to criticism for being a syrupy lightweight. Try Whistling This was intentionally more opaque, but not necessarily the better for it.

So now, after reforming Crowded House for two albums which showcased a more sophisticated take on Finn's traditional pop songcraft, is Finn feeling a bit guilty? Or did he just want to try something new? After more than 30 years in the industry, who could begrudge him the desire to form a garage band with his wife? That is what Finn has done with Pajama Club. Along with Neil and Sharon Finn, the band includes Kiwi musician Sean Donnelly and former Grates member Alana Skyring.

To be sure, Pajama Club does not sound like anything Neil Finn has released before. He is consciously trying to downplay nearly all the traits that have made him great. His smooth, sincere voice is buried in the mix and coated in distortion and reverb. He often metes out his lyrics in a monotone. He's put himself on drums, probably because it's the only instrument he is merely proficient at. And, while it is not devoid of hooks, Pajama Club clearly puts texture before melody. The all-around vibe is loose, prickly, and a bit trashy. It's a bold move for someone of Finn's stature, now in his fifties and with nothing left to prove. And, while far from an embarrassment, it's not quite a success.

Anyone expecting Finn's trademark sincerity, warmth, wit, and pop/rock expertise will be disappointed. But that's not really the issue, because it would be naïve to expect Finn to form a new band to do the same thing he's been doing for decades. The problem is that Pajama Club has very little to offer other than to prove that Finn can do edgy indie/garage if he wants to. If the sound is new to Finn, it's not new to the world of indie music. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and in a more engaging fashion.

Pajama Club is the musical equivalent of one of those films where the cast all know each other and seem to have had a great time making it, but the actual product falls flat. Lead track "Tell Me What You Want" is actually fairly intriguing, as Finn mutters behind a thumping rhythm and buzzing, slicing synthesizers. The chorus is actually pretty catchy, but Sharon Finn just can't pull off the Kim Gordon to Neil's Thurston Moore. She simply comes across as too wide-eyed to be either as sexy or dirty as the song requires.

Granted, "Can't Put It Down Until It Ends" benefits from a towering, overdriven organ and a danceable beat. "From a Friend to a Friend" is Pajama Club's best meeting point between the melodic and the atonal. Barbed guitar lines intertwine, a sound that would be melancholy were it not so emotionally distant. Then, a howling electric blast explodes over the chorus, as the Finns croon something about magic wands, before building to a multi-layered freakout coda of Radiohead proportions. Nice. "Dead Leg" exudes an almost shoegazey fuzziness. It's telling, though, that the sadly atmospheric "TNT for Two" is the one song here that wouldn't sound out of place on a Crowded House record and is also the best track.

Otherwise, there's too much amateurish thumping of drums, too much distortion-for-distortion's sake, too much unconvincing attitude in lines like "I'm a master / Of disaster." On albums like Crowded House's Together Alone and Finn Brothers' eponymous release, Neil Finn has shown that he can stretch expectations and minds without putting his songcraft and heart out to pasture. Pajama Club is an admirable grab at a clean slate, but the price is just a little too high.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.