My friend Dan suggested to me that i do a blog on my 5 favourite Split Enz albums, it's a good idea, I've listened to their music for a long time and it'll be the first New Zealand group featured in this blog. Split Enz weren't really part of any musical movement in NZ, they were pre punk there are hints of prog rock about their debut and classic pop in their later albums. I also don't think you could described them as cool, they are nerdy and a bit odd.
Their debut album recorded in Australia where like many other places they were loved and hated. The cover art was painted by Phil Judd and is kind of surrealist, a lot of the images coming from caste away photos he collected of other peoples lives, it's kind of gothic and disturbing and completely fits with the music inside. I have seen the original painting of this in our National museum Te Papa and it is almost exactly the size of a fold out LP cover, the main difference being that the image has been reversed for the album and Phil had subsequently painted away his hair.
Walking down a Road - a seemingly straight forward title that begins with a murky fade in maybe treated synthiser some distinctive bass playing and amazing piano trills from their very talented keyboard player Eddie Raynor, Tim Finn starts his great delivery of the lyrics of dislocation, anxiety and imagination. There are fade outs and fade in with what sounds like a mandolin.
I turned to my guide
but just as I feared
there are elements of dark nursery rhyme, vaudville and circus. The band on stage wore thick make up and costumes designed and sewn by their percussionist Noel Crombie they looked weird and many must have thought they were on drugs but like Frank Zappa they show that you don't need drugs to be weird. At this stage their main song writer was Phil Judd the songs either being credited to him or co-written with Tim Finn their main singer. Phil's weirdness might have been helped along by some mental health issues which in more recent times have taken him to rather dark places and not always made him the most likeable person.
Under the Wheel - features Phil on lead vocals and they show what a gifted created artist he was. This is music of shadows. this is another song with a spooky fade in, again strange gothic vibe and this music is truly original. Green and black seem to be colours associated archetypically with New Zealand painting and this album has that ambience that mixes what we get in a few Colin McCahon paintings, Janet Frame and Ronald Hugh Morrieson novels.
After the brooding spirit of the first two songs it's a great relief to have the rather funny perky jaunty tune Amy, which makes you want to break out into a country dance.
I won't go over the rest of the tracks but I'll conclude by saying this album is richly imaginative it takes you to a place no other album does and it also seems to tap into something essential to New Zealand art, it has to be one of our giants, it's quirky, funny, creative, dark and kind of beautiful. A monument.
Funnily enough the band were disappointed with what had emerged from the studio with Mental Notes and they re recorded a lot of songs with their next album which was produced by Phil Manzanera in England where it was there released as Mental Notes in Oz and NZ as the aptly titled Second Thoughts. It's a good album but does not have the intense brooding atmosphere of their debut it was a strange and unnecessary step sideways.
Phil Judd has now left the band, he had found touring very hard, he did not respond well to the sometimes hostile reception this group of weirdos received in some parts of the US and Australia and as a musician he had become unreliable. He was replaced by Tim's younger and at this stage still pretty young brother Neil. Neil didn't have a large role on this album but that would change on subsequent albums where he became a key elemnt in the bands later popularity.
This album is more poppy than Mental Notes, but it's still an odd album, Tim Finn was now the main songwriter and it is a good selection of songs, it has more bubble than Mental Notes and more of a Circus atmosphere it kind of takes off where the Beatles song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite left off.
Bold as Brass - This was a single the lyrics are deliberately full of cliches and it's very humable and dancable. but still has some great percussion bubble and pop.
My Mistake - Tim Finn insecurity in Love Song, lovely changes lovely singing
Parrot Fashion love - more love insecurities, also nice tune.
Sugar and Spice - written by Phil Judd but fits nicely into the rest of the album.
Without a Doubt - a longer track and more brooding, maybe the first beautiful ballad from the band, there is pathos and longing here, shows off Tim's voice, plenty of space in the music, maybe a bit slow for some but I really like it, also some nice changes at
Like a fly in the ointment
Love makes my flesh creep
Crosswords - a bit of a play on words, well produced and again pretty catchy and quirky.
Charlie - Neil has had rather harsh words about Tim's vocal performance on this tune. But I find it spooky this tale of Love and death. Some great piano touches from Eddie Raynor. Maybe a classic.
Nice to Know - very cool bass line, pretty good song well delivered.
Jamboree - A good finale starts slow takes it's time and slowly builds ties in well to their earlier work.
So a very accomplished album maybe not as important as Mental Notes, but it moves on from there to a deliver a very credible album lead by Tim Finn who shows he has enough talent to carry the bands songwriting, he does have help from other members.
Between this and Dizrythmia was a set of session tapes now released as the Rootin Tootin Luton Tapes and the album Frenzy each of which have their merit but one was never meant to be an album and the other suffered somewhat from poor production and focus. Not so with True Colours this is their Pop opus where Neil Finn emerges as a major force threatening to eclipse his older brother Tim.
That's an amazing thing another major songwriter emerging from the band.
So this time the sound was paired down with a strong pop focus and with a strong producer with David Tickle. It opens with the frenetic Shark Attack which was a really energetic live song, I saw the band when they toured this album and they were smoking hot, great energy, great songs and really committed performances. This song tries to draw on the zeitgeist of the time created by the movie Jaws.
I got You - Neil's huge single, this one was just everywhere in Oz and NZ hitting number 1 and i suspect staying there for a while it's a great 60's style pop tune so catchy so well delivered, perfectly performed and produced. we still hear it on the radio to this day. If you like good pop tunes you have to like this track.
What's the Matter with You - Another 60's style gem from Neil but with Tim singing. very cool keyboard solo.
There are two instrumentals by Eddie Raynor on this album which are very nice filler Double Happy and the Choral Sea.
There is a romantic ballad from Tim with I hope I never which apparently was written after an attempt to ring Phil Judd and his refusal to speak with Tim. A nice change in tempo and mood.
What else can I say all the songs are good, they're nice pop by a band inspired by the Beatles and the Kinks, just a really well focused pop album, this album held out Pink Floyd's the Wall from the number one spot in both Australia and New Zealand where it was a giant album that everybody loved and bought. this made us feel very good about ourselves and it is still a joy to listen to.
Time and Tide
This to me is the last great Enz album, they had had their pop success they followed that up with an album called Waiata which i think stuck a bit to close to the mould they had created with True Colours, it still has good songs but it just doesn't feel quite as fresh the second time around.
Time and Tide however they stretched themselves and wrote songs that were personal and introspective, Noel Crombie took over the drums and he does nice things with them. There is a bit more of the proggy feel to this album but it is no look back but rather a look inside. These songs seem to mean tsomething to the writers and for that they touch me more deeply.
I love Dirty Creature a song about internal demons, but also with a very cool groove and some great changes and nice textures from Eddie Raynors synth and guitar hook from Neil. excellent singing from Tim.
A really cohesive album that fuses the personal with great collaboration everyone is pulling in the same direction, only a great band could create so many excellent albums.
The Beginning of the Enz
When i was thinking about which 5 albums to feature I easily came up with the 4 above but couldn't think what would be the fifth until I remembered this album.
The material on this album was recorded in New Zealand prior to Mental Notes, it even has some of the same songs, but they atmosphere here is joyful and just doesn't brood or disturb like Mental Notes but yet it so fresh and for a collection of singles it all works nicely together. great fun.
There you have it my homage to a great New Zealand band.