Review Summary: Second-gen pop magic.
Young Liam Finn is a clever, clever man. His debut album under his own name, 2007’s I’ll Be Lightning
, was almost entirely of his doing in terms of creation, production and instrumentation. However, when it came to taking the album’s vast, intricately layered sounds onto the road, Liam was always going to need a little help.
Enter Eliza-Jane Barnes. The two already had a link in terms of being second-generation musicians – Liam’s father is Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, whilst Eliza-Jane’s father is Cold Chisel singer Jimmy Barnes (“Barnesy” to your local pub-goer). But once the two began performing together, the links and the chemistry grew stronger with each and every performance. Liam took on vocals, guitars and drums (sometimes all at the same time thanks to the magic of loop pedals), whilst EJ supplied harmonies, backing vocals, percussion and even the occasional strum of an Autoharp. Indeed, the two have developed into a practically inseparable musical pair over the past eighteen or so months. No surprises, then, that their collaboration has spawned an EP in the form of Champagne in Seashells
. Even fewer surprises, still, that it’s a wonderful (albeit brief) collection of imaginative and genuine tunes that’s from the heart and for the head.
Four words, whilst somewhat silly to think, are practically inescapable from initial reactions to Champagne
: Like father, like son. Liam has obviously learned a lot from his dear old dad and his time in Split Enz and Crowded House. The track “Honest Face” takes the old Neil Finn route of making sadness sound unabashedly cheery and upbeat – almost as if it’s family tradition. The contrast takes place in the form of the uplifting harmonies (a strong trait of the Finn/Barnes collab) and sliding major chords with the lyrics of “You’re a cheat/And a liar/With an honest face”… before confirming their distrust with the catchy chorus of “I don’t say these things just to anybody”.
Of course, the two don’t live in parental shadows anymore – it’s hardly as if this is a record of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Khe Sanh”. Perhaps the most likable thing about the songs Finn and Barnes have on offer here is the fact that they are able to strike a balance that most left-field pop/rock fails to do between experimentation and accessibility. Not once over these five tracks is one sacrificed for the other. Lead single “Long Way to Go” is a vintage pop tune at its core, with swaggering electric guitar and some killer falsetto from Finn. Even still, the two are free to experiment with ominous choir-like harmonies, beeping synths, buzzing organ and hissing vocal percussion. Its successor, the summery “Won’t Change My Mind”, appears to be much more placid and airy for its first half, before transforming deceptively and unexpectedly into a bizarre calypso jam via a wave of electronic blurts, theremin and what appears to sound like seagulls. It’s an engaging string of songs, sonically welcoming in rather than polarising.
The two had a very clear idea of what they set out to achieve here – they not only played every instrument, but also produced the EP themselves. We’ve captured these prodigious twentysomethings at what could well be the final transitional stage between being introduced as “so-and-so’s kid” and being introduced as performers and musicians in their own right. The Finn and Barnes legacy continues on in more than capable hands.