Neil Finn Returns With Two Albums, DVD

Former Crowded House/Split Enz frontman Neil Finn says the recording of his new live album, "7 Worlds Collide - Live at the St. James" (released Feb. 26 via Nettwerk America), was both an experiment w

Former Crowded House/Split Enz frontman Neil Finn says the recording of his new live album, "7 Worlds Collide - Live at the St. James" (released Feb. 26 via Nettwerk America), was both an experiment with some rather famous friends and a chance to give a little back to his fellow New Zealanders.

Culled from an April 2001 five-night stand at the St. James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, "7 Worlds" sees Finn joined by such peers/admirers as ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, Lisa Germano, former Soul Coughing member Sebastian Steinberg, and Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien of Radiohead.

Looking for a chance to do something special in New Zealand, Finn reached out to each early last year to see what interest they might have in coming to "his place" and forming a short-lived band. "I wanted to explore what happens when you put people together from unlikely places, each with a really strong will to make great music," he says. "That was the motivation -- and also to just hang out and have a good time at home and sort of bring the music business back home."

New Zealand, Finn says, is no more accessible or tour-friendly than Hawaii and is often passed by on tours, rarely seeing an event like this. "Most of the bands that tour Australia don't even come to New Zealand. It's not economically viable. And you always see these kinds of events on TV happening somewhere else. It never happens in Auckland."

He adds that the fact the shows were to be held in a somewhat exotic, out-of-the way place, was probably part of the attraction for Vedder, Marr, and company, who, after convening in Auckland, had three days to rehearse. "We had to get good real quick," Finn says, laughing.

Immediately struck by their compatibility with one another, Finn says the group (Marr and O'Brien on guitar, Selway on drums, Steinberg on bass, Germano on keyboards and other instruments, and Marr, Germano, Neil, brother Tim Finn, and Vedder on vocals, with other contributions from Finn's son's group, Betchadupa) learned a "ridiculous" amount of songs -- roughly 30 tracks, including Crowded House, Smiths, Split Enz, Pearl Jam, Finn, and Germano songs, as well as material Finn had recorded with Tim.

"Everybody got really greedy to be on everything," Finn says with a laugh. "And you couldn't keep 'em away. People like Johnny Marr are just so up for playing."

With so many songs, the band was able to easily mix up the set lists from night to night, giving those who attended multiple shows different experiences. In addition to the group's takes on Split Enz's "Take a Walk," the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," and Crowded House's "Weather With You" -- all of which are included on "7 Worlds" -- Finn and company even covered Pearl Jam's "Better Man" (which Finn says put a big smile on Selway's face) and the La's' "Timeless Melody," with Vedder on vocals.

"I think in terms of variety, you couldn't imagine going out to see a more varied and dynamic show. You never knew what was gonna happen next," Finn says.

What made the album's final cut is only roughly half of what's available on a DVD/video chronicling the five shows, also issued Feb. 26. Finn and his guests are donating their royalties from both to Doctors Without Borders, a charity that provides aid to victims of war, epidemics, and natural disasters. Says Finn, "We just wanted to keep the whole thing in that mode of being pure and for the sake of it, for the sake of music and a good time."

The CD and DVD/video will be followed May 21 by the long-delayed North American release of Finn's second solo set, "One All." The album's U.S. bow comes a year after its international release. After an unsatisfying and brief stay on Sony's now-defunct Work label -- which issued his solo debut, 1998's "Try Whistling This" -- Finn says he needed time to "find a home for it that seemed right."

The extra time has given Finn a chance to spruce up the record: "I've had a year to think about it-I've improved a couple of things. I've added a couple of new things. I've taken away a couple of things, which hadn't worn very well. And I've remixed a few things. So, I think, all-in-all -- excuse the pun -- it's an improved record."

To designate that "One All" -- which features guests Germano, Crowded House producer Mitchell Froom, Sheryl Crow, lauded skinsman Jim Keltner, and Finn's son Liam -- has been freshened up, Finn retitled it. The previously released international version carries the name "One Nil," a play on the New Zealand pronunciation of Finn's first name.

"One All" drops two "One Nil" tracks, and replaces them with the new songs "Human Kindness" and "Lullaby Requiem."

Finn will play a quartet of live shows this month in the U.S., and will perform March 12 on CBS' "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn." He is expected to return to North America for a more expansive tour later in the year.

Excerpted from the March 2, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the members section.

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