Liam Finn's musical apprenticeship was at the feet of his father, Neil, the acclaimed singer/songwriter behind Crowded House. Finn's teenage band Betchadupa opened for Neil on solo tours in the late '90s, and when Crowded House re-formed in 2007, Liam joined as a touring member. Such close familial connections are not uncommon among Finns -- Neil joined his brother Tim's band Split Enz when he was in his late teens and he soon was on an equal footing with his sibling by his early twenties, roughly the same age Liam was when he released his solo debut, I'll Be Lightning, in 2007 (the record was released in the U.S. in early 2008). I'll Be Lightning finds Liam coming into his own as a singer/songwriter not unlike how Neil did around the time of True Colours, a remarkable parallel in musical development that, when combined with the passing similarity in their songwriting styles, can perhaps tie Liam a little too closely to his father. Like his dad, Liam has an ear for hooks and a predilection for melodic craft, but he is not only his own man, he is certainly the product of his own generation, raised on classic pop dating back to the Beatles but obsessed with indie singer/songwriters of the '90s, specifically Elliott Smith. I'll Be Lightning has the same spare, dreamy qualities of Smith's music, but Liam Finn isn't as haunted as Smith, even if he has a similar knack for floating melodies. Despite a fair share of brokenhearted ballads here, this isn't an overly melancholy album; it can be comforting in its spells of sadness, partially because they're balanced by lighter material that meshes with the slower, sadder songs to give this depth, a richness in lyric and music uncommon to young singer/songwriters. The arrangements are slyly inventive, too: "Bottle It Up" gains considerable propulsion from its blaring bass, "Second Chance" has a tapestry of skittering drum loops and gentle harmonies, and even the straight-ahead driving pop tune "Lead Balloon" is percolating with ideas beneath its undeniable hooks. These little details are revealed upon repeated plays, but what really gains hold upon those subsequent revisits to I'll Be Lightning is the strength of Liam Finn's songwriting, as the 14 songs here seem stronger upon each listen, with the songs soon seeming indelible. This kind of gift is rare, but it has been passed on from father to son in a way that is similar yet quite different and equally valuable, as this excellent debut makes plain.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine