Liam Finn: I'll Be Lightning

By Rebecca Barry Hill

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Herald rating: 4 out of 5

The last time Liam Finn released an album, he was a fresh-faced rocker living the dream with his band, betchadupa. Their two albums were everything they set out to be: young, exuberant, and with enough Beatles references to show Finn had not only inherited his dad's music collection, he'd also got the genes.

Now on a break from the band after two years in Britain, the 23-year-old has returned home briefly to release a batch of thoughtful, intimate songs that are very much his own, even if the title track appears to have taken its cues from a 1960s love-in.

Growing up hasn't just affected his desire to grow a ridiculously thick beard; it has manifested itself in his songwriting. Finn is at his best on the most introspective solemn songs, such as Gather to the Chapel and the haunting Wide Awake on the Voyage Home.

It certainly sounds like an album written on such a trip, so it makes sense that Finn plays most of the instruments, opting for old-fashioned analogue gear and a raw performance style that means the drums aren't airbrushed to perfection. There's enough complexity and warmth in his production to ensure they sound as fulsome as his beard.

That's not to say traces of Finn snr are absent. Liam and his dad share a love of melodies that don't take the easy route, twisting themselves around unpredictable chord changes, harmonies and loping structures that don't quite finish where you expect them to (Energy Spent and the eerily Neil-esque Remember When).

Nowhere is that songwriting talent put to better use than on the album's almost-centrepiece, Wise Man, which begins as a simple guitar ditty and builds into a majestic multi-layered masterpiece. At 14 tracks, the album could have benefited from a bit of pruning, and perhaps its gospel tune, Lullaby, could have gone first, followed by the most betchadupa moment, Lead Balloon. But they are minor quibbles on this electrifying debut.

Label: Liberation
Verdict: Accomplished solo album from the woolly-faced wonder

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