7 Worlds Collide: The Sun Came Out

Neil Finn’s very own supergroup — involving Radiohead, Wilco and Johnny Marr. 

IN 2001, NEIL Finn invited Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder and Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway to join him in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. The plan was to play a few charity shows under the presumably one-off nameplate 7 Worlds Collide and, as the resulting live LP showed, they turned out to be lively, virtuosic affairs, chiefly filled with reworked selections from the host’s songbook.

7 Worlds Collide, the sequel, however, is something quite different. It involved three weeks of open-ended recording in Auckland’s Roundhead Studios (this time benefiting Oxfam) around Christmas 2008. All of the above save Vedder returned, along with reinforcements led by four members of Wilco, plus co-producer/engineer Jim Scott in tow. Finn’s premise this time was more ambitious, with all of the participants urged to contribute songs, the pedigrees of the assembled musicians challenging everyone to bring their A game.

The pairing of Finn with Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts wasn’t as improbable as it might seem on the surface. Two summers ago, Wilco and the reformed Crowded House conducted tours that brought them in close proximity at several stops. I saw the two bands play staggeringly strong sets on consecutive August nights at the picturesque Santa Barbara County Bowl, and was struck by how much they had in common — both bands being led by supremely talented, disarming and charismatic writer/singer/ guitarists, both sporting sounds rooted in the 1960s and ’70s, and both enriching songs that would be memorable presented with just a vocal and acoustic guitar with intricate detail, while always leaving space to stretch out, particularly in live performance, at which both excel.

The resulting 7 Worlds Collide project, The Sun Came Out, wound up yielding two dozen songs, while so inspiring the Wilco members that they stayed on with Scott and wound up laying down the bulk of on their own new Wilco (the album). The two albums have one song in common, Wilco’s irresistibly catchy ‘You Never Know’. It’s the same take, including Nels Cline’s subsequently overdubbed George Harrison guitar homage, but the original 7WC mix also features Finn’s fuzz guitar lines, Wurlitzer vamps and backing vocals, which fit in so well that some fans may prefer it to the all-Wilco version. Tweedy’s other unassisted song contribution, the bittersweet ballad, ‘What Could Have Been’, again featuring the Wilco core line-up with Finn, could also have slipped seamlessly into Wilco (the album), and its exclusive presence here stands as a fittingly magnanimous gesture on Tweedy’s part toward his host.

Finn, who’s all over the album on a variety of instruments, had a hand in only four songs, but each is a standout. His helping hand on KT Tunstall’s percolating ‘Hazel Black’ results in her most engaging song since ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’. ‘Learn To Crawl’, an atmospheric collaboration between O’Brien, Marr, Finn and his elder son Liam (who has an album of his own and played on the 2007 Crowded House tour), turns on an acoustic guitar arpeggio stitched out by O’Brien, Marr and Wilco’s Pat Sansone. With its towering crescendo, Finn’s anthemic ‘All Comedians Suffer’ is adorned by a twisting, fuzzed-out solo from Tweedy. And in what stands as the album’s biggest surprise, Finn’s wife, Sharon, makes her disarming singing debut on their jointly written ‘Little By Little’, while ably supplying the bass for the lilting groove tapped out by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.

The other stunners are O’Brien’s Revolver-like ‘Bodhisattva Blues’, with Tweedy once again slamming out the solo; Sansone’s heartland bossa nova ‘Don’t Forget Me’, with Marr adding electric guitar; the smoking Kotche-Selway drum summit ‘3 Worlds Collide’; and ‘Long Time Gone’ by Don McGlashan of Kiwi band The Mutton Birds, a shimmering folk-rocker ornamented by Marr’s ringing 12-string acoustic and Searchers-style harmony vocal.

Tweedy gave a writing assist to Marr on the swirling opener ‘Too Blue’, with violins from Lisa Germano overdubbed into an elegant string section, while Kotche and younger son Elroy Finn provide the double drumming and Selway adds percussion. Sebastian Steinberg (from Finn’s touring band) and Wilco’s John Stirratt split the bass chores, Marr and Neil Finn share lead vocals, Sansone plinks on the piano and Marr’s son, Nile, strums an acoustic. It encapsulates the all-together-now family vibe of The Sun Came Out, a vibe that permeates this unabashedly life-embracing album. And if Finn was perhaps a bit too generous in handing out slots to sidemen who shouldn’t quit their day jobs, there’s a strong 14-track album lurking within this 24-track expanse.

At press time, Scott was back in Auckland producing the next Crowded House LP. Based on what’s been coming out of this inspired core crew, it should be something special indeed.

© Bud ScoppaUncut, September 2009

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