For many years my perpetually adolescent outlook on life had led me to view with deep suspicion all acquired tastes. If a taste had to be acquired, I thought, what good was it anyway? At some point in my late 20’s I realized the answer: because sometimes things are more complex than you are. Only by surrounding yourself with something unfamiliar and being exposed to it on a regular basis can you crack the necessary codes to understanding it.
Not that it happens all at once. I willed myself into jazz based on the trust I had in the musicians I admired who acknowledged its musical supremacy, and that process took a few years. Jazz really is the most advanced musical artform from the standpoint of rhythm and harmony, so it naturally turns a lot of people off. For many people raised on rock music, it is the textbook definition of “acquired taste.”
So, for me, was Neil Finn. In the late 90’s, I was still recovering from guitar addiction and transitioning into the pomp and fanfare of Jellyfish. Neil Finn just seemed like another guy singing songs, nothing particularly impressive from the standpoint of timbre or instrumentation. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when I heard “She Will Have Her Way” in an episode of Sports Night that I knew I needed to revisit Neil and Crowded House.
Neil’s lyrics manage to be simultaneously direct and vague. He’ll alternate something structured and coherent like “I’m so sore that I could cry” with an abstract photo-lyric like “always in the night lay your tired arms.” His chord progressions often take a left turn on the second or third time through a verse. He can also write lyrics that don’t rhyme but you never notice it. Like The Weepies, he writes songs that can put you in your own movie, but it’s always a movie directed by Neil Finn, where the sky is always cloudy but the grass is usually green.
Whatever your interpretation of this song’s lyrics, the title makes clear that the woman gets her way. For as many love songs as exist in the pop universe, I found this topic of relenting to the will of the woman to be surprisingly underrepresented (“Baby’s Got Sauce” by G. Love notwithstanding). Not many men like to admit their lack of control in a relationship, and the resignation in Finn’s voice speaks to the underlying assumption that no matter how smart or in control a guy thinks he is, there’s usually a woman out there smarter and more complex than him.