Chocolate Cake (N Finn/T Finn) 1991 and Fall At Your Feet (N Finn) 1991 and It’s Only Natural (N Finn/T Finn) – Crowded Hoise 1992
In the period September 1988 to May 1991 Crowded House failed to set the charts on fire with no top twenty entries in Australia prior to the release of their third album Woodface in July 1991.The band had also struggled in the US after the initial success of their eponymous debut album; their second album, Temple of Low Men, was an estimable artistic achievement, but was deemed to be overly complex and melancholic, it had not lived up to expectations commercially there, even though it was a #1 hit in Australia and NZ in 1988.Three years later and Neil Finn was suffering anxiety attacks and in the grip of a paralyzing bout of writer’s block, Capitol Record company President Hale Milgrim (above) had rejected the first cut of their third album, and privately Neil Finn agreed that only half of the songs were up to standard.Neil asked his older brother Tim and fomer Split Enz bandmate, and a person who knew a thing or two about panic attacks, to help. Tim had just returned to Melbourne after living overseas for five years in a long-term relationship with actress Greta Scacchi which had ended in 1988 (couple above). Between them the brothers re-discovered the missing creative spark and fraternal camaraderie that ultimately produced a great album, but it was to be an emotionally bruising journey for all concerned.Neil had converted his house in Murchison Street St. Kilda (Melb) into a recording studio called Periscope, during the sessions Neil played bass, Ricky Fataar (above) was recruited on drums and Tim on guitar, at this time the creative process was very much about the brothers. Neither Paul Hester nor Nick Seymour participated in the recording process on the first raft of songs demoed, and Neil had actually sacked Seymour (together below) because of “musical differences”, the standard excuse for a falling out among band members, he would subsequently be re-instated, but the group was dysfunctional and threatening to implode.The sessions were looking more like a Finn Brothers side project, than the third Crowded House album, ultimately this would cause Neil’s band mates Hester and Seymour, regular producer Mitchell Froom, and their record label Capitol, considerable angst. The upside was that the brothers were actually co-writing songs together for the first time, sitting in the kitchen with Neil playing bass and Tim on acoustic guitar, it was a brilliant period of creativity, such songs as Chocolate Cake, Weather With You, and Four Seasons in One Day were pop gems that emerged, and were destined for a Finn brothers album, but not for Crowded House.Compromise was required to capture and exploit the great songs that the brothers had written while ensuring the future momentum of Crowded House, who were a bona fide international act. The side project including Tim Finn was ultimately merged with Crowded House, sibling rivalry was temporarily sublimated, the album was completed, Tim joined the band and they went on the road to promote it. Chocolate Cake was the first single sequenced on the Woodface album and the first single released, it was an unusual choice given the quality of other songs available, and the fact that the song skewered America and its people, a market that the band were looking to re-connect with after the failure of Temple of Low Men there.Tim’s inspiration for this song was a conversation he had overhead in an American restaurant when he heard a mouthy matron ask her partner loudly “What do you think? Another piece of chocolate cake or the bill?”. The line stuck in his head as a metaphor for the American condition, and became a stinging rebuke of what Tim saw as a shallow, consumerist society and a spoiled culture of overfed vulgarians “The excess of fat on your American bones/Will cushion the impact as you sink like a stone/ Can I have another piece of chocolate cake.”Satire is fine if the object of the satire gets the joke and buys the record. Maybe it was an unfortunate choice of song that just reflected the quirky, mordant Kiwi sense of humour, which was more obvious during the Split Enz days, or it may have just reflected the precarious risk-taking disposition that people from geothermically active countries, like New Zealand, possess. Or was it just the fact that Americans generally have an irony deficiency?Either way, the record, with its unusual riff played on an early electronic keyboard known as an octagon, and a great harmonica solo by Chris Wilson (above,Paul Kelly and the Colored Girls) – bombed in the US, as did the album. It was however a top 20 hit in Australia and NZ. The video featured Tim in his new brilliantined lounge lizard persona and the band dressed as a cheesy Vegas lounge act, as they performed the song.
Two months later the second single lifted off Woodface was released, Fall at Your Feet was a melancholic Neil Finn classic and the only single lifted off the album that was not co-written by the brothers Finn. The song was created by merging the chorus of one song with the verse of another at the suggestion of producer Mitchell Froom who had a penchant for becoming more directly involved in the songwriting process than most producers, he had already been credited as a co-writer with Neil Finn on Something So Strong.Fall At Your Feet reflects on the pain and anguish felt when a relationship is fractured, the guilt a perpetrator may feel for causing such pain to another person and their willingness to absorb or minimize the impact “The finger of blame has turned up on itself and I‘m more than willing to offer myself/ Do you want my presence or need my help/ Who knows where that might end.”
Guitars and the rhythm section carry the song forward as keyboard and vocal harmonies endow a straight-forward pop song with a memorable shading and nuance. The song charted #17 in the UK and was a top 40 hit in Australia, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands.It’s Only Natural was blissful pop with an engaging first verse written by Neil “Ice will melt, water will boil/ You and I can shake off this mortal coil/ It’s bigger than us/ You don’t have to worry about it” The song is yearning “Please let me have my way with you…” and the trademark Finn aura of vulnerability and melancholy inhabits the lyrics “It’s easy when you don’t try going on first impressions/ Man in a cage has made his confession/ Now, you’ve seen me at my worst/ And it won’t be the last time I’m down here.”
Tim’s chorus unites the brothers in vocal harmonies evocative of the Everly Brothers, that anchors the song” It’s only natural/ That I should want to be there with you/ It’s only natural/ That you should feel the same way too.” Intricate vocal harmonies and brilliant word play, it came naturally to Neil and Tim. The song charted #15 in Australia and #24 in the UK, the album was starting to take hold in Europe and the UK and the fourth single lifted from Woodface – Weather With You – would take them back into the top ten in the UK.