Split Enz – The Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes

Split Enz - The Rootin' Tootin' Luton TapesFor much of of 1978, Split Enz seemed to have reached the end of the road. Having lost their label contract, their management, and almost all of their live work, the band was stranded in England with only a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council in their native New Zealand to sustain them through the lean times. At this point, lead singer/songwriter Tim Finn’s younger brother, Neil, had been with the band for less than a year. With no concerts to play, the emphasis was on writing and rehearsing (and, when they could afford it, recording) new material, and with Phil Judd having come and gone again, Neil had his first chance to try to add his own songwriting touch to the band’s sound. In June and July of 1978, the Enz converged on a studio in Luton to record their new material, with songs written by both of the Finns. And the irony of it is that only a few of those recordings have been heard until now.

Approximately half of the songs recorded at Luton were honed further and re-recorded from scratch as the group’s 1979 album Frenzy. The other half were occasionally dusted off (and sometimes re-recorded) as B-sides for singles (this being back in the days when there were still physical singles, and when those singles still had B-sides), while others never saw the light of day. Poised precariously between the original Split Enz remit of arty, complicated rock with ambitious arrangements and challenging tempo changes, and the group’s more sharply-focused ’80s pop-going-on-new-wave sound, these are the Luton sessions, revealed at last after 30 years to satisfy relentless pressure from the group’s loyal fans down through the years.

Is there a reason these recordings weren’t issued at some point back then? Well…yeah. They’re definitely diamonds in the rough, and there’s almost zero stylistic unity in the material. With nothing to lose (how much lower could they go from being unemployed in another country, with no recording contract and no promotion?), the band can clearly be heard revisiting its old sound, taking various approaches to revamping it, and even trying on and discarding whole new styles as they saw fit. The bulk of the songs are still Tim’s, though the tunes written by Neil are a revelation. Some of the songs represent his earliest songwriting efforts, as well as some of his earliest outings as a professional musician. His singing voice is, to be charitable, unrefined in places, but the pure catchiness of his songwriting offsets that. “Carried Away” and “Holy Smoke” originated here, as did “Late In Rome”, better known as “Serge”.

Tim’s contributions aren’t anything to sneeze at, however – “Semi-Detached” (one of my favorite songs that the man’s ever written), “Hypnotized”, “Next Exit” and “Remember When” originate from the Luton sessions, among many others. It’s with Tim’s songs that one can hear the most stylistic experimentation; “Hypnotized” is performed almost in the style of ’50s blues-rock, with a typically Enz twist, and some of Tim’s other tunes are similarly poised between the Enz’ early ’70s music-hall-inspired sound and more instantly accessible styles.

There are other landmarks to be heard here, especially if one has the two-disc version that was made available only to the Frenz Of The Enz fan club. That second disc, not available at retail, consists primarily of early mixes of the songs from Frenzy. Some of them, such as “Frenzy” itself, is in a decidedly unfinished form. But that disc also contains other tunes as well – Phil Judd’s last two contributions to the Enz as songwriter, “I’m So Up” and “So This Is Love”, are on the fan-club-only disc, as is “Livin’ It Up”, a song by relatively new recruit Nigel Griggs, which sees the Enz belly up to the edge of punk…and apparently back away slowly again. Judd’s two songs are a sharp reminder that, as much as some listeners regard him as the architect of the Enz’s weirder excesses, he was as capable of coming up with catchy, three-or-four-minute gems just as the Finn brothers were.

Other unusual writing credits appear; the first disc features a Griggs/Tim Finn collaboration, “Creature Comforts”, “Straight Talk” (co-written by the elder Finn and former Enz sax/horn player Robert Gillies, who had departed the band by this point and embarked on an art career that would later see him serving as, of all things, production designer for Xena: Warrior Princess), and an atmospheric-but-rather-strange song called “Animal Lover” by Eddie Rayner. These songs likely emerged from group jams – it was about as close as the Enz would ever get to an all-hands-pitch-in kind of band. The rest of the time, barring a few Eddie Rayner instrumentals, it seems that the band’s music came from the minds of Judd and/or one Finn or the other. It’s an interesting peek into avenues left unexplored. The first-ever songwriting collaboration between the Finn brothers, “Best Friend”, can also be heard, though it’s not something you’d probably be expecting if your indoctrination into the Finns’ duets was Woodface or the Finn Brothers albums.

It’s worth noting that purists might object to one thing: Rayner remixed many of the recordings, though not all. The two Judd songs originate from an appearance on the BBC’s Dave Lee Travis show, and some were left alone or had been mixed down and couldn’t be remixed. “Semi-Detached” is one such example of a song left untouched, and it certainly didn’t need any revising. But to be honest, purist or no, I’ve never heard the Luton tapes in their original state – and I doubt too many can say that they have either – so it’s not as if I have something to compare this release to so I can hear what’s changed. I also appreciate that the bulk of the Frenzy material is on the second disc only; as Frenzy is still available commercially, these alternate takes amount to music deleted scenes and outtakes (though the band is said to prefer the raw passion of the original recordings). Those who only want to hear stuff they’ve never heard before can do just fine with the single-disc version.

4 out of 4Ultimately, this collection, in either single or double disc form, may really be for-fans’-ears-only material. These aren’t new Split Enz songs (nor are there likely to be any), but the vast majority of the songs on the first disc, and a fair few on the second disc, will be new to most fans’ ears, and I’m not one to pass up on the chance to hear something new – or even just new-to-me – from either Finn. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the group’s “year from hell,” in an English summer three decades ago.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Miss Haps (4:08)
  2. Home Comforts (4:13)
  3. Animal Lover (3:16)
  4. Carried Away (4:37)
  5. Semi-Detached (5:03)
  6. Holy Smoke (3:21)
  7. Message Boy (3:47)
  8. Hypnotised (3:41)
  9. Late In Rome (3:25)
  10. Straight Talk (3:23)
  11. Hollow Victory (3:23)
  12. Evelyn (3:16)
  13. Best Friend (3:04)
  14. Creature Comforts (2:52)
  15. Remember When (3:56)

Disc two – Frenz of the Enz version only

  1. Hermit McDermitt (5:02)
  2. Betty (6:13)
  3. I See Red (3:15)
  4. Mind Over Matter (3:09)
  5. Next Exit (3:54)
  6. She Got Body She Got Soul (2:57)
  7. So This Is Love (4:14)
  8. Abu Dhabi (4:53)
  9. Famous People (4:02)
  10. I’m So Up (2:58)
  11. Marooned (2:27)
  12. Livin’ It Up (1:17)
  13. Frenzy (3:07)

Released by: Rhino
Release date: 2007
Disc one total running time: 55:25
Disc two total running time: 47:28

Split Enz – Rear Enz

Split Enz - Rear EnzCollected here in one easy-to-grab chunk is the entire ’80s career of Split Enz, courtesy of Mushroom Records. Normally I rail against labels reissuing the unpteenth iteration of a band’s greatest hits, but since we’re getting the whole albums here, I can honestly give you hearty recommendations for this set. My big gripe with the five original albums included in this 6-CD box set has nothing to do with sound quality – everything was cleaned up by Enz keyboard whiz Eddie Rayner for this re-release – but everything to do with packaging. When the Split Enz 70s box set was released, there was at least some attempt to retain the original LP artwork, front and back, in some form. Not so here – and I wouldn’t be griping unless this omission involved the best back-cover art ever, Time & Tide‘s photo montage. Okay, so maybe that’s something not everyone’ll see as a problem, but it honked me off a bit. As I noted, had the same effort not been made for the 70s set, I would have shrugged it off more easily.

The real treasure here is the sixth disc, a bonus CD of non-album B-sides, demos and other rarities. Much more entertaining than the first box set’s disc of extras, this one is a solid slice of studio material with no live cuts (and really, why bother when The Living Enz has this part of the band’s career covered so well?). “Fire Drill” is an early Tim/Neil Finn collaboration (with Eddie Rayner getting a credit as well), and makes one wish that the Finn brothers had written more Split Enz material together – it’s definitely hit material. “Next Exit”, written by Tim and released as a stopgap single between albums in 1983, is another guilty favorite of mine – it’s goofy as hell lyrically, and yet still listenable. Other Tim songs – “Big Heart”, “Parasite”, “In The Wars”, “Remember When” – all have their own quirky appeal.

The real fascination here is the chance to witness – in an aural way at any rate – the evolution of songs that would later see release in other forms. Neil’s “I Walk Away” is heard in two early forms (“Your Inspiration” and the surprisingly disco-fied “Love & Success”, though portions of the latter became “Can’t Carry On”), with drastic steps yet to be made in both lyrics and the structure of the song’s melody itself. Even more revealing is Tim’s “Mr. Catalyst”, a jumpy dance tune which would be given entirely new lyrics and held back until his second solo album, Big Canoe, where it became “Spiritual Hunger” – though certain Eddie Rayner-penned instrumental breaks were lifted out of it completely and transplanted to Neil’s “Years Go By” on the final Split Enz album to great effect. Rayner also contributes an instrumental number all his own, “Over Drive”.

4 out of 4And the money shot of the Rear Enz bonus disc? Easy one – Neil’s “Serge”, a song dating back to his pre-Enz days in a band called After Hours (when it was titled Late In Rome). While it’d be easy to say that Rayner’s synth-sampled strings make the song, it’s a lovely example of Neil’s early ballad writing. (And it’s no surprise that it was a fan favorite in Crowded House’s live shows.)

Order this CDThe first five discs in this set are also available separately and have been reviewed previously: True Colours, Corroborree, Time & Tide, Conflicting Emotions and See Ya Round.

  1. Fire Drill (3:11)
  2. Your Inspiration (3:27)
  3. Parasite (2:44)
  4. Next Exit (4:15)
  5. Over Drive (4:17)
  6. Serge (4:06)
  7. In The Wars (4:08)
  8. Love & Success (3:43)
  9. Big Heart (3:41)
  10. Mr. Catalyst (2:59)
  11. Remember When (3:50)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1992
Bonus disc total running time: 44:24

Schnell Fenster – The Sound Of Trees

Schnell Fenster - The Sound Of TreesThis little-known and distinctly 80’s entity consisted of Split Enz alumni Phil Judd, Noel Crombie, and Nigel Griggs (more or less the half of the band who didn’t go on to become regular members of Crowded House) along with Michael den Elzen, who later played guitar on at least one of ex-Enzer Tim Finn’s solo albums. At the same time that Crowded House was treading softer ground with Temple Of Low Men, these other former Enz members were trying to carve out a somewhat more quirky and dance-oriented niche for themselves, not unlike the territory Tim Finn had explored with his very pop-oriented early solo projects. But where Tim was upbeat, his former Enz cohorts were downright weird at times. Not that this is bad – at various times, Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones were also considered weird. Put simply, Schnell Fenster hauled the new-wave pop style out of the early 80’s, dragging it kicking and screaming (the style, not the band themselves) into the latter half of the decade, which was dominated by mechanical quasi-R&B dance grooves and rap. Sometimes, as with the catchy “Skin The Cat”, there’s even a hint of cool swing to the proceedings, and numerous other numbers play the new-wave game to the hilt, including “Whisper”, “Run-a-Mile” and “Never Stop”. I’ve found that there’s nothing on this album not to like, 3 out of 4but if you have never heard of Schnell Fenster, it’s because this is an example of a band and an album out of time. It could’ve gone over huge only four or five years earlier, but its somewhat dated sound, along with Phil Judd’s penchant for whimsy which characterized his reign in the early days of Split Enz, kept it from gaining anything more than cult recognition among Enz fans.

Order this CD

  1. Whisper (3:45)
  2. Love-Hate Relationship (3:59)
  3. Sleeping Mountain (3:44)
  4. That’s Impossible (3:26)
  5. This Illusion (3:42)
  6. Lamplight (3:35)
  7. The Sound of Trees (4:46)
  8. White Flag (3:36)
  9. Long Way Away (3:20)
  10. Skin the Cat (3:05)
  11. Run-a-Mile (3:02)
  12. Never Stop (4:12)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1988
Total running time: 44:56