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Reviewed for FasterLouder
It is surprising that musicians don’t do this kind of thing more – getting together for the sake of the music, collaborating and sharing the experience of songwriting. One way to do it is the ‘supergroup’ which can either work (Them Crooked Vultures, Temple Of The Dog) or can be a turgid affair (Chickenfoot, Tinted Windows). The model that Neil Finn has developed, where a group of musicians travel to New Zealand with their families and gather to write and record, much like a working holiday.
The Sun Came Out is the second album from the 7 Worlds Collide collective. The first featured Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), members of Radiohead and Johnny Marr (The Smiths). Pretty much a line-up to drool over for indie and rock fans. The new project features many of the same musicians from 2001 plus members of Wilco, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall and Glenn Richards (Augie March). Wilco are often called the ‘American Radiohead’ so to get these chaps together is a fairly monumental musical summit.
As a result of the relaxed beach atmosphere and the extended family vibe of the whole project the songs all flow by breezily, with an americana tinge to many of them. It is effortless pop that drips with melodies and some wonderfully subtle playing.
Jeff Tweedy contributes a couple of tracks, the first being You Never Know from Wilco’s latest album. It is pure Wilco in sound and with the band recording some of their album on the visit it is essentially the same version you hear on that record. His other track What Could Have Been rolls along over a primitive drum machine and is the darker Tweedy, musing on past actions and consequences.
With Neil Finn being the head honcho he appears throughout the album, including the first song written and performed by Finn and wife Sharon. Neil has referred to Little By Little as their amateur version of ESG’s amateur pop funk. The song is a delightful sunny ode to children growing up and finding their own lives and Sharon’s voice suits the song – its not strong but it has a pop melodicism that sits well with Neil’s voice.
Neil’s Learn To Crawl sounds very Radiohead in the verses with Ed O’Brien’s treated guitar soundscaping in the background before the strident chorus surges forward. It is Finn showing another side to his writing beyond the Crowded House and more in tune with his solo work.
KT Tunstall contributes a very country pop styled track complete with ‘whoahs’, handclaps, and honky-tonk piano. It verges on Sheryl Crow at times but the playing and roughness around the edges pulls it back from the edge of MOR and gives it a more Jenny Lewis feel.
Johnny Marr’s track is the biggest disappointment of The Sun Came Out, meandering along without direction, intent or anything to really grab onto. Never possessing the strongest of voices,Marr’s song could surely have been replaced by one of the many other session tracks.
One of the big surprises is Radiohead’s Phil Selway who steps out from behind the kit and unveils a sweet Elliott Smith/Nick Drake acoustic number. He possesses a gentle keening voice and does well to temper it with mainly organic instrumentation. Lovely stuff.
Duxton Blues is Glenn Richards living out a dream. Imagine turning up with a song and having Johnny Marr and Neil Finn backing you. He doesn’t at all sound phased, delivering a strong track that strips away some of the clutter that sometimes clouds Augie March songs. Duxton Blues has one of the strongest choruses on the album, effortless, swelling and catchy.
7 Worlds Collide again proves to be more than a vanity project. Perhaps it can be criticised for its safeness and lack of stretch and experimentation but Finn’s choice of musicians and the idyllic surroundings dictated that songwriting would be the focus and the strength they would play too. The live concerts (to follow on DVD) will be a fascinating watch and one hopes that it won’t be another 7 years before Finn picks up the phone again.