Remember the `Concert for George?’ You know, the one they played incessantly on PBS for a few weeks. It was the concert where the remaining former Beatles joined up with Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Anoushka Shankar, Tom Petty and Billy Preston to honor the late `quiet Beatle,’ George Harrison. The most amazing aspect of the show wasn’t so much a cavalcade of talented musicians in one place; it was the appearance of young Dhani Harrison. All of 24 years old, young Dhani was remarked to have looked as if `George stayed young and everyone else on stage got old.’ The resemblance was uncanny. Granted, George had looked even younger than that when he first joined the Beatles at the tender age of 17. Also at 24, Liam Finn may not be as `royal’ a progeny as Dhani, or say, Lisa Marie Presley, Jakob Dylan or Sean or Julian Lennon, but he may end up to be more successful. While Dhani Harrison resembled George in looks, (with a big bushy beard, it’s difficult to tell whether Liam looks like dad), Liam Finn eerily resembles father Neil in both musical style and vocal timbre, and that can only work in his favor.
I’ll Be Lightning may not be Liam Finn’s grand debut as a musician, but it might as well be. Previously, he had been the frontman for Betchadupa, a band that is huge in his native New Zealand, but fairly obscure almost everywhere else. With this solo debut, Finn is sure to break out of world obscurity, thanks to a likeness to those artists indebted to the melodic sweetness of John Lennon, his father chief among them. It’s going to be hard for many, fans and critics alike, to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Liam’s father. It happens even when the child sounds nothing like their parental unit. But in Liam’s case, that’s definitely a plus.
Not only do Liam’s vocals throughout I’ll Be Lightning sound like Neil’s sweet falsetto tones, but the music itself resembles that of one of Neil’s solo albums, or some of Crowded House’s best work. All this without the direct assistance of pops in the studio. Sure, it may have been recorded at dad’s place, but it looks like he was AWOL in the process. This goes even further to prove that Liam is coming into his own, choosing a path that ultimately leads to a family likeness. Someone had to carry on the family line, and Liam is doing it remarkably with this album.
“Second Chance” and “Remember When” will have Crowded House fans doing double takes and wondering how they missed out on these unreleased Finn, Sr. tracks. However, there are a few tracks in which Liam out-Lennons his dad, such as in “Gather to the Chapel” and “Music Moves My Feet.” Another Lennon devotee, Elliott Smith, is recalled in “This Place is Killing Me.” The likeness on that song is almost as eerie as the family similarity. Finn adds some studio trickery throughout I’ll Be Lightning, blips, bleeps and keyboard flourishes, and they certainly add some texture to the songs, but ultimately they’re unnecessary. I get the feeling that these tracks could be played solo acoustic and still be fantastically pretty, and that just means great songwriting.
Fans of the brothers Finn are certainly going to jump on board the Liam bandwagon with I’ll Be Lightning, but with talent like Liam’s, his reach might even surpass those stolid fans. The world is always in need of delicate, Beatles-esque melodies, the kind that never seem to go out of style, and Finn is thankfully following in the family tradition. It doesn’t hurt when dad is one of the more talented songwriters of the ’80s, ’90s and beyond, and it certainly doesn’t hurt when `son’ is asked to take over drumming duties for dad’s band reunions. But I’ll Be Lightning proves that Liam doesn’t really need the `secret handshake,’ just a reliance on his own voice, as eerily similar as it may be.