On first listen, I'm pretty cool toward Lightsleeper. The thing I like most is how it sounds, in terms of the actual sonics. I don't like the sound of a lot of the stuff that's come out of Neil's studio (Pajama Club, Out of Silence, The Sun Came Out)...something kind of dry and flat about them, but this album sounds fantastic. Yes, a real headphones album. Tchad Blake does a wonderful job mixing these intricate arrangements and all their little blips and bloops, it has a real living, breathing, 3D quality to it. I think the above albums were mixed by Neil's in-house engineers, who are perfectly competent, but Tchad Blake shows what a difference artistry in the mixing stage makes.
As for the songs, nothing really stands out for me. Maybe the first Neil Finn album ever I'd say that about. I don't hate it, it's just...eh, never really does it for me. I've already said enough elsewhere about my issues with Liam's voice, but in general, things are tipped too much toward Liam for my taste. And the one song that's somewhat in the realm of "classic" Neil Finn -- Listen -- is ruined for me by the "talk singing" thing he's doing more and more of these days (where it sounds like he's talking rhythmically more than singing his usual way).
It's not that I mind Neil experimenting -- it's great that he wants to keep evolving -- but I think earlier albums like Try Whistling This or Together Alone demonstrate a far better marriage between his established strengths and his willingness to push boundaries.
Perhaps I need to just admit that what I really want from him is an album of classic pop songs with a band, and it seems more and more like he's not very interested in that. The last thing he did like that, and the last album from him I really fell in love with, was Time On Earth, over a decade ago. Maybe we'll never get another album like that again, who knows. I do think it will be creatively invigorating for Neil to be in a band again that's not made up primarily of family members. Nothing against Liam, Elroy and Sharon at all, but I hope Neil's next project finds new primary collaborators.
But, I'm glad others are finding a lot to enjoy with Lightsleeper.