Jen Carey

On his third solo album, Crowded House’s NEIL FINN reaches for new creative heights.

It’s not easy for New Zealander Neil Finn to convene his band Crowded House for a new album. Two of his bandmates are American, and another one lives in Ireland. So when Finn recently wrote a batch of “urgent” new songs, he decided to release them this month as a solo album titled Dizzy Heights (Lester Records, $12). He also opted to record with musicians from his own crowded house: his wife, Sharon (bass and backing vocals), and his adult sons, Liam (guitars) and Elroy (drums).

“I couldn’t think of a better backing band,” says the songwriter, renowned for writing hits such as Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and, before that, “I Got You” with Split Enz. “We hadn’t done it before, and there was a novelty to it. Once you learn a new song together and play it as well as you can, there’s a lot of DNA that adds up to something good.”

Dizzy Heights showcases Finn’s seemingly genetic gift for writing indelible melodies. (One fancifully imagines that his DNA double helix consists of musical bars dotted with musical notes.) What sets the album apart from Finn’s earlier work is its bold, colorful, dense production — it’s the aural equivalent of a Marimekko print design — and prominent use of orchestral strings. The often-experimental songs on Dizzy Heights share the rarefied air of Finn’s previous creative pinnacles.

“I have a fixation on trying to get better and better,” Finn says. “There are some detrimental effects to one’s personality in reaching for great heights. It can lead to feelings of isolation and loss of focus,” Finn admits. He adds that he’s developed a disciplined work ethic to cope with the stresses and fears of songwriting.

“The art of making great music is partly in making it seem like it was the easiest thing to do and the most natural thing to do,” Finn says. “Sometimes ideas come from destroying something, and sometimes they come from having a jubilant moment, and sometimes they come from just sheer bloody-mindedness and hard work.”

Whenever Finn finishes writing a song, he puts it to a crucial test: his wife. Once Sharon has added bass to the track, her reaction soon becomes apparent.

“I take great heart from the things she ends up dancing to,” Finn says. “There’s a softening of body and face when the music’s good, and you can’t underestimate how much that means.”