What One Young Man Made of His Freedom: Liam Finn, I’ll Be Lightning

By Daniel Garrett

Liam Finn, I’ll Be Lightning
Recorded, produced, and mixed by Liam Finn
Yep Roc Records, 2008

New Zealand’s Liam Finn, the son of Neil Finn (singer and songwriter with the bands Split Enz and Crowded House), has made an album, I’ll Be Lightning, an album of impressive beauty, structure, and feeling. In the collection’s fourteen songs, Liam Finn’s high voice and light melodies create a sensitive aura within guitar-driven music. The song “Better to Be” involves establishing personal resolve despite the inconsistency of young love; and “Second Chance” is about memory and forgetting, about the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, and has a surprisingly elaborate sound, with a near-orchestral sweep and oriental rhythm, although it is Finn who plays most of the instruments on the album. Liam Finn’s voice seems androgynous and pure in “Gather to the Chapel” and the dense, short rhythms of his guitar’s strumming is balanced by a murmuring instrumental wail. Using different aspects of the rock music tradition in unexpected places—melody interrupted by shifts in rhythm and harmony—and thrashing guitar, pounding drums, chanting, pretty harmony, and short simple refrains—Liam Finn achieves something unique in “Lead Balloon” and other songs (a swirl of voices behind the lead voice’s sincere declarations of affection in “Fire in Your Belly,” or allowing his voice to take on a low, grainy quality as he articulates concern for an acquaintance’s rest in “Lullaby”). Liam Finn (or Finn as narrator) states that he is not broken, just exhausted in “Energy Spent”—and if so, one can admire still his fortitude and resilience. “It’s nice to go to sleep, all things forgiven,” Finn concludes in “Music Moves My Feet” (sleep is a recurrent reference: it is certainly an elemental fact of human life). What sounds like Spanish guitar weaves throughout “Remember When,” in which memories of intimacy and doubt are recalled, with issues of honesty and trust addressed (“I’m an open book—fallacy and shame”). Finn achieves what seems a personal voice—not the voice one speaks in but the voice one thinks with, the voice that is changed when one feels, the voice others usually do not hear: a voice of sensitivity and serenity, a voice of imagination and investigation. What “once was fun will later be boring,” he sings, with a cello-like throbbing nearby. “This Place is Killing Me” has a harder edge than most of the collection’s songs, and mentions new experiences and drinking to numb the pain. “I’ll be lightning, you’ll be lightning” Finn muses to a slowed-down rhythm, and distinct melody and harmony, in “I’ll Be Lightning,” which begins with the sound of laughter. In the somber ballad “Wide Awake On the Voyage Home,” about appearance and reality, intoxication and reason, love and indifference, Finn asks, “Is this just a trick to procreate?” In the last song on the album I’ll Be Lightning (“Shadow of Your Man”), Liam Finn sings, accompanied by piano, the lyric, “I’m the shadow of your man,” but it is hard to believe he is anyone’s shadow.

Daniel Garrett has been a longtime resident of New York, and his work has appeared in, or been featured by, The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, The Compulsive Reader, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, PopMatters.com, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. Garrett’s commentary on the band the Smyrk (New Fiction) was featured on PopMatters.com.