A lyric from the title track from New Zealand rocker Neil Finn's new solo album, "Dizzy Heights," crystallizes much of what the erstwhile member of Crowded House, Split Enz and the Finn Brothers is up to on his latest work.
"Help me make up a new sound," he sings, and indeed, much of what he's created for "Dizzy Heights" embodies that idea with spacious aural landscapes and often exotic arrangements surrounding lyrics that delve into a multiplicity of emotions.
It's often a far cry from the Beatle-esque pop with which Finn built his reputation as one of the finest songwriters of the 1980s and '90s.
"I wanted to take what I perceived as new angles in the songs, and take them as far as I could, and at the same time take somebody else's perspective who I admire," Finn, 55, said during a recent swing through Los Angeles as part of a short tour in which he previewed several of the new songs. He returns to L.A. on Wednesday with a show at the Orpheum Theatre downtown.
That "somebody else" is Dave Fridmann, who co-produced the album with Finn. Fridmann, known for producing works by groups such as the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, helped Finn develop the more expansive sonic atmosphere that is a key part of "Dizzy Heights."
There's also a more pronounced R&B-soul feel to many of the songs, something Finn says he's been increasingly interested in exploring. Combined with lush string arrangements by Victoria Kelly, with whom Finn first collaborated on "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Finn even sees a loose connection to an unexpected musician he's long admired.
"Another reason for the strings is that I love that sort of Barry White 'Love Serenade' sound," Finn said while sipping a soft drink in the restaurant at his West Hollywood hotel. Wearing a comfortable brown tweed jacket over blue knit polo shirt, Finn cautioned, "I'm not drawing too many parallels because it's nothing like that. But I do love those records with that sort of atmosphere."
He said that sound began to emerge with "Impressions," the first track he started working on for the new album that features his wife, Sharon, and two of their children, Liam and Elroy.
"That seemed to have a very different atmosphere, kind of a slow R&B thing going on, which I've always had lurking as an undercurrent," he said. "Even if you go back to [Crowded House's 1987 breakthrough hit,] 'Don't Dream It's Over,' I remember at the time, that song got played on some of the urban stations, which was really surprising to me — in hindsight, maybe not so much, because it's got an underpinning of soul."
"Divebomber" is one of several tracks in which Finn takes his light sandpaper voice into the vocal stratosphere, eliciting memories of Barry Gibb's work with the Bee Gees.
"I don't mind that [comparison]," he said with a smile. "I liked the Bee Gees when I was a kid. Actually, there is a bit of falsetto, which causes consternation among some of the fans — there are a few people who just don't like me singing falsetto, and complain quite loudly about it, strangely — which makes the perverse side of me do it more," he added with a laugh.
In an era in which any band with two or three hits seems to be able to carve out a living on the reunion circuit, Finn would have plenty of opportunities to cash in. For now, though, Finn says those outfits are "all parked in the garage. With Crowded House, I'm not sure — at some point there'll be a good reason to do it. At the moment, it's in a pretty good place and I'm really happy about the fact we made it into a living entity again, it felt like the right thing to do ... we had some great shows." (The reunited Crowded House played the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in 2007.)
As for the whole cottage industry of reunion tours, Finn said, "There are two ways of looking at it. First, there's nothing wrong with people doing it. The fact of the matter is a lot of people didn't make any money the first time round. So good luck to them — why not?
"On the other hand, I'm kind of glad the Beatles never came back. I can see that side of it as well," he said. "There's something about preserving that golden moment in time."
Closer to home, however, Finn is looking for every opportunity to connect with his own musical muse.
"I'd like to go and play every single day for a year: somewhere, sometime, somehow — mostly solo, but I might incorporate a few other people — where I make it my mission to learn every song I've ever written … then just turn up in lovely little venues and just be able to do anything," Finn said. "I figure that would be a very good exercise, just to keep my brain healthy.
"I find I'm becoming more fixated on spending all my time making music these days," he said, "maybe because there's a finite amount of time and it seems like there's so much to do."
Neil Finn and Midlake
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Cost: $52.15 to $66.15
Info: http://www.Ticketmaster.com and (877) 677-4386