Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello and the Attractions) Talks Liam Finn’s The Nihilist

Who is the Nihilist? Or is that Neil-ist — Liam Finn is the son of the celebrated Neil Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz fame. Either way, Finn's...

Who is the Nihilist? Or is that Neil-ist — Liam Finn is the son of the celebrated Neil Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz fame. Either way, Finn’s chosen title for his third album raises, for me, a number of philosophical issues. There’s a lot of bad shit going down in the world these days, for example, the extreme right made gains in the recent elections here in France, it’s depressing; music is now considered a “freebie”; few people possess a CD player, given that the latest computers no longer have a slit in them to feed a disk into; cars have sound systems that Bluetooth to the music library in your cellphone. Soon, as Spike Jonze predicts in Her, our OS will actually compose the music we listen to, saving us from the likes of egotistical artists, giving us music perfectly suited to our individual lives, the same way Google presently spits marketing messages at us. Thankfully, before this ghastly idea becomes real life, Liam Finn has written and produced for us a fun, cosmically human-sounding record. It’s out on CD and vinyl, and the dreadful-sounding, downloadable variety too.

So in the true spirit of nihilism, I am not going to do the track-by-track description of this tantalising record that gets better each time I listen.

  • I am not going to say how I hear such disparate influences as Placebo, Prince, and Paul McCartney, I am not going to confirm that I enjoy hearing sythesisers triggered by guitars, lead vocals doubled at the octave or sung in high, falsetto voices.
  • I am not going to admit that stand-out tracks like “Burning Up the Road” “Wild Animal,” “Snug as Fuck” and “Ocean Emmanuelle” are going ’round in ’round in my head, as maddening ear-worms.
  • I won’t say which of these songs might have been more in focus with a producer behind the mixing desk. (And, for the next record Mr. Finn, I’d love to wear that hat for you.)
  • I won’t say how much the sparser, excellent live versions of these songs available on YouTube and Vimeo, with Finn’s regular band of cohorts, are well worth checking out too.
  • I will not tell you how mad it makes me that Mr. Finn has not seen fit to issue a lyric sheet, whether I spent any time figuring out the lyrics, or which lyric site I’ll be uploading them to.
  • I won’t try to determine if the splendid-looking rat cake in the “Snug as Fuck” video is gluten-free.
  • I am not going to list the 60 or so instruments that Finn claims he played himself to build this album. He certainly has studied them well and plays them all with the wildest abandon.
  • Yevgeny Barazov, the nihilist hero of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, having fallen in love, found his dark philosophy of life challenged. And so, perhaps, does Mr. Finn: “Harder that you try/More ruthless I become/And tied to the wall/like her little boy/Sure, you had enough/Afraid you fell in love,” he sings on “Wild Animal.” The “Neilist” presents a challenging jigsaw; the final song, the pointedly titled “Wrestle with Dad,” completes the picture. Masochists, there are only two possibilities in this world: follow in your parents’ footsteps, or, as Liam Finn has done, take everything you have learned from them and head somewhere different.

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Steve Nieve has been Elvis Costello’s keyboardist since the first note of the Attractions. Nieve has recorded several acclaimed solo albums, including Welcome to the Voice, the classical opera he co-wrote with Muriel Téodori, released on Deutsche Grammophon in 2007. “ToGetHer” — a song cycle — continues the spirit of collaboration and brings together for the first time Sting, Vanessa Paradis, Elvis Costello, Laurie Anderson, Robert Wyatt, Muriel Téodori, Tall Ulyss, Ron Sexsmith, Harper Simon, Joe Sumner, Cali, Alain Chamfort. Available via 429 Records. You can find him on Facebook here, Twitter here and his website here.  Photo credit: Muriel Téodori