Aaron Beam is the lead vocalist and bassist for Portland, Oregon hard rock group Red Fang. He has also played with Helms Alee and Federation X in addition to writing for the Portland Mercury and working on the film Coraline. When not relentlessly touring the world or making viral music videos, he enjoys cooking, telling bad jokes, and spending time with his family. Aaron used to love beer but no longer drinks it due to a recurring yeast infection on his anus.
Most people will be familiar with Neil Finn through his work in the ’80s with Crowded House. A few years after their release, I began to appreciate the songwriting strength of the singles “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” enough to give Crowded House’s 1986 self-titled debut album a listen. I remember none of the tracks but one: the incredibly raw, emotionally intense “Love You ‘Til The Day I Die.” Some 23 years after I first heard it, that song still pops into my mind. The purity of Finn’s declaration of undying love and the throat-tearing vocal delivery gave me goosebumps in 1991, and they still do today.
Being completely unfamiliar with anything Finn has done in the 28 years between Crowded House and his new solo album Dizzy Heights, it’s hard for me to see the record as anything but a reply to that song. Jacques Derrida said that the reader is an integral part of the creative process, and that each time one reads the same work, one is a different person with different experiences, and will bring something new to each reading. Therefore, given where my mind has been while listening to this album for the past week or so, the record feels, to me, like a reply to the hopeless, perhaps naïve, faith in love that can conquer all.
Whereas “Love You ‘Til the Day I Die” was able to capture all of the fire and excitement of a newly blossoming love in one three-and-a-half minute track, Dizzy Heights, his third album under his own name, needs five whole songs (“Impressions,” “Flying in the Face of Love,” “Divebomber,” “Better Than TV,” and “In My Blood”) to craft a response. I would also submit that though “White Lies and Alibis” is on the surface a song about the West Memphis Three, that the symbolism of that song can easily fit within the arc of the five songs that seem quite clearly grouped together. The five tracks tell a story of tests and the ultimate triumph of everlasting love. The basic story seems to be that the narrator’s wife was tempted by an extramarital affair, and that, in the end, the test proved their love to each other.
(A brief aside: Before we get any further into my breakdown of the love story central to this album, I should point out that, according to my extensive research — that is to say, from what I read on the internet— Neil’s 32-year marriage to his wife Sharon is quite solid. She co-wrote some of the songs and plays bass on the album. Their sons Liam and Elroy also play on the album, as do fellow New Zealanders Sean James Donnelly and Connan Mockasin. Now, whether or not the songs on this record are autobiographical, are about a friend of Finn’s, or are simply a literary invention is ultimately irrelevant. But in order to protect the innocent, I refer to the person telling the love story as “the narrator.”)
“Impressions” opens the record with a mellow yet captivating bang, like a slow-motion underwater explosion. It’s an impressionist painting of a song, both musically and lyrically. The blossoming love it describes is an instance of cheating, but it could just as easily be the nascent love between the narrator and his wife. Because of some changes going on in my own life, upon first listen, this lyric: “In this chaos around us/still you found this connection/But it’s not good luck for anyone/to play at being dumb” really punched me in the heart and created a little weather system inside my eyeballs. Following this moment of doubt, though, the narrator sings “Got no plans for the future/not looking for a change/I’m here to stay.” So even though his wife has been exploring other love options, the narrator maintains and asserts his devotion.
The next part of the story comes with “Flying in the Face of Love.” He sings, “Before you get too involved/Like this isn’t real/It’s just a feeling/that gets in the way sometimes.” The indication being that these extramarital interests are not the substantial thing that makes for the everlasting, “Love You Til the Day I Die” type stuff. In this track the narrator first mentions the other man. Apparently, he is also a musician: “Were you thinking of her/When you wrote that song,” and in the end he feels a bit vindicated: “Flying in the face of love/all the years are catching up/how does it feel to be wrong?”
Following this initial confrontation we have “Divebomber,” the centerpiece of the album both musically and lyrically. The track begins with a sweet yet spooky finger-picked chord progression and a few lines about a widow staring out the window, thinking of planes passing overhead. The song abruptly switches to the lone sound of a dive-bombing airplane, which is then accompanied by a wash of melodically complementary synthesizers in an arrangement that is, quite simply, brilliant. Here in this track, the narrator is determinedly chasing after his wife and her suitor, knowing that catching them will lead to an inevitable crash-landing. But his faith in his wife is still undying: “It’s gonna be a wreck, alright/It’s a risk if you’re flying fast enough/With a rush of blood you can bet she’ll forget anyone/She understands where you’re taking her/and she won’t break up under the strain.”
The narrator, after confronting the perceived danger to their marriage, follows up with a sophisticated plea to his wife in “Better than TV.” He acknowledges her infidelity and tells her he understands why she needed to explore this extramarital affair. The metaphor sounds a bit corny, but it’s effective at getting the point across when he tells her, “If there is a chance/if there is a chance/that you wanted to dance/that you wanted to sing/don’t die wondering.” He forgives her, because he sees that making it through these challenges only serves to strengthen their love. In a lyric that echoes “Love You ’Til the Day I Die,” he sings, “If we both get carried away/I’d be happy to see/at the end of the world it’s just you and me.”
We take a little detour from the love story with “White Lies and Alibis.” This is the darkest track on the record, and includes an unforgettable, spine-tingling orchestral note during the bridge, when Finn sings, “Do what you can to survive.” Earlier, I mentioned that this track is about the West Memphis Three, but what could be a better metaphor for a love triangle than one man being wrongfully imprisoned while the guilty man walks free, and the imprisoned man’s only hope for salvation is a woman’s love?
The story of a burning love 28 years on comes to a close with “In My Blood.” I wish I were more inspired by the melody of the chorus of this song, but to my ears it sounds a bit trite. The last part of the chorus transitioning into the bridge, however, is rapturous and exceptional: “Do we reincarnate/How I wish that I could come back again/How I wish that I could do this again/Melancholy beats my heart/Her cries mistaken for the sound of loneliness/There are far too many stars/on the earth there is but two of us.” Even after all the trials and infidelity, the narrator still wants to come back and do it all again. Because she is in his blood.
I know that feeling of deep spiritual connection. I hope everyone gets to experience it at least once, because it is extremely rare and special and overwhelming. To feel that you are so emotionally close to someone that you must be somehow assembled from the same molecules. As though the stardust that assembled to make you and her was part of the same rock or cloud of gas at some point, and the bits of dust split apart a billion years ago, and when you connect with her mind, those bits of stardust can feel each other and want to be glued back together. It is the type of love that may come along only once in your life if at all, and once you have it you will do anything to make sure it survives.