ENZSOThis is a rather curious concept. For all the wonderful melodies that emanated from New Zealand’s Split Enz from the early 70s through 1985, I’d never really thought of them as potential orchestral numbers, though they tend toward complex arrangements (which is surprising, as many interviews with Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner, who initiated this project, revealed that few if any of the band’s players are actually formally-trained musicians). The album kicks off with a haunting and majestic rendition of “Poor Boy” and it’s instantly evident that the quality and intensity of the arrangements have been magnified immensely. I’d heard some very lukewarm (and a couple of downright cold) reviews on the ability of the group’s more standard-issue pop songs to translate into full symphonic arrangements. Possibly the best example of this is the medley of “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Time For A Change”, two songs from the band’s first album which were full of menace and anguish, which are given an even greater tension in this new medium. Even the cartoony “My Mistake” sounds great, going from its circus-organ-like original to a loud and clumsy brass band (kudos to the NZSO for playing quite so badly in just the right places!) One of the most surprising transformations occurs with Tim Finn’s “I Hope I Never”, beautifully sung by Annie Crummer against a backdrop of real strings – not synthesized as in the original. The switcheroo of singers is a fun guessing game; Dave Dobbyn takes over some of Tim’s old falsetto favorites such as “Poor Boy”, while Neil and Tim share vocals on “Stranger Than Fiction” and Neil takes “Stuff And Nonsense” over from his older brother. “Under The Wheel” is recited entirely by poet Sam Hunt with a truly jazzy rendition of the music behind him. Original Enz percussionist Noel Crombie returns to the instrument that made him famous in the early days, playing spoons – specifically the spoon/piano break from “The Woman Who Loves You” is jammed into the middle of “Strait Old Line”, which sounds virtually nothing at all like its original incarnation. In all, this is an outstanding album – the novelty of hearing the Finns singing with an orchestral backing, hearing these old arrangements punched up to maximum intensity with a huge ensemble, and the sheer quality of the whole thing. I know the notoriety of ENZSO would wear off if it were overdone, but I’d love to hear some more of those old Split Enz tunes given this treatment someday. A definite Rating: 4 out of 4addition to my DNP Album List on the first listen! My singular peeve is the song “I See Red”, which was originally downright hyperactive, but seems to have been toned down drastically so Tim Finn could still sing it without exceeding his current vocal range; the song’s original appeal is diluted enough that I think perhaps another piece could have been substituted to greater effect.

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  1. Poor Boy (5:06)
  2. Message To My Girl (6:05)
  3. I Hope I Never (5:35)
  4. Strait Old Line (5:50)
  5. Stuff and Nonsense (5:39)
  6. Albert of India (5:41)
  7. My Mistake (2:57)
  8. Voices (4:15)
  9. I See Red (6:25)
  10. Under the Wheel (7:20)
  11. Dirty Creature (6:39)
  12. Stranger Than Fiction / Time For A Change (11:29)

Released by: Epic Australia
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 73:01