Children play a game called “Opposite Day” where one does and says the opposite of the expected. One wakes up and offers a goodnight greeting, then has dinner for breakfast, and such. Neil Finn would be great at it. The pop musician constantly does the reverse of what he says he’s going to do in his songs and lyrics. His new album’s title, Out of Silence, alludes to this strategy. Seriously, what comes out of silence is just more silence. Finn fills the silence with songs.
There’s one track called “Alone” that features the collaboration of his brother Tim and another called “Independence Day” that celebrates the need we all have for others. The New Zealand native complains that “The Law Is Always on Your Side” one minute and then offers a frightening vision of the stateless on “Terrorise Me” the next. Finn literally says, “I Know Different” as if he has achieved wisdom but also admits he’s unsure and always changing on “Chameleon Days”. Finn’s conflicting narratives reveal he’s battling with himself. He doesn’t know the answers to the questions of life. These songs don’t achieve some sort of mythical balance, but instead offer shared situational narratives that show you how fucked up things really are.
There’s an immediacy to the recording, no doubt intensified by the fact that the music was initially workshopped in front of an online audience every Friday for a month, recorded in a night (also live-streamed over the net) and released a week later. There are no guitars or drums. The piano, string-arrangements, and human voices prevail. And of course, there are melodies. These are pop songs with subtle hooks and shifts of tone. If given a choice between soft and loud, Finn generally goes soft and then lets the song build up again to a climax or two or three. While the album is a short 35 minutes and features minimal orchestration, Finn packs a lot of sonic layers so that what once began as a throwaway line of instrumentation can become a new theme, or the last syllable of a word cause a pivot in the song’s direction.
The songs are mostly introspective and offer a critical perspective on the world. He specifically references the Bataclan concert hall attack in Paris 2015 at an Eagles of Death Metal show. “I won’t turn into a xenophobe,” he proclaims in response to the horror. This album was recorded and released before his Kiwi mate Lorde decided to not perform in Tel Aviv, but his lyrics declare the importance of inclusion over division. A person loses part of oneself when only seeing the other as “the other”. Finn offers solace in terms of a comforting pace and gentle intonations. Things go on, even after they fall apart.
Out of Silence is a soothing album—even a beautiful one in its employment of a solo piano one minute, then a single human voice, then strings, then a chorus. This is chamber pop for reflective times. Finn knows that one can shout out in protest about the many injustices of just living in today’s world, but it won’t do any good. Instead, he offers hope. “I think that we can fight and still be friends,” he sings. Let’s hope he’s right.