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

Split Enz – Frenzy

Split Enz - FrenzyThis was the first hint of the studio-polished Enz as well as the first glimpse of a much heavier, more electric sound to come. When this album was recorded, things were not going well for the band – they were stranded in England, broke, and shortly after their studio sessions, their instruments and equipment were lost in a fire just before a concert date in support of the new album. The resulting frustrations and tensions are evident on the music, which is harder-hitting all around. Neil Finn begins to make his voice 2 out of 4heard on this album, which offers a preview of the band’s style in the 80s. The best bits from Frenzy include the Tim & Neil collaboration “Give It A Whirl”, the poignant “Stuff And Nonsense”, and the uncharacteristically heavy “Abu Dhabi” and “Mind Over Matter”.

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  1. I See Red (3:17)
  2. Give It A Whirl (2:51)
  3. Master Plan (3:09)
  4. Famous People (2:53)
  5. Hermit McDermitt (4:09)
  6. Stuff and Nonsense (4:26)
  7. Marooned (2:51)
  8. Frenzy (3:03)
  9. The Roughest Toughest Game in the World (3:43)
  10. She Got Body She Got Soul (2:56)
  11. Betty (4:43)
  12. Abu Dhabi (4:32)
  13. Mind Over Matter (2:57)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1979
Total running time: 45:30

Split Enz – Dizrythmia

Split Enz - DizrythmiaThis is perhaps the least listenable of all the Enz’ albums. You’d think that I, a solid Crowded House fan, would adore Dizrythmia for the arrival of future Crowdies lead man Neil Finn, but on this album his talent is still very much in the process of developing and maturing. The whole collection isn’t a total loss, as it features favorites such as “Bold As Brass” and the downright sinister “Charlie”, as well as my personal favorite on this disc, “Crosswords”, a wonderfully silly song with a surprisingly complex 2 out of 4arrangement. To describe this album in a single phrase – this is Split Enz in flux. It becomes obvious that the amazingly polished sound of Second Thoughts was a bit of a fluke early in the band’s history. Still, a lot of Enz fanz like this album, so I could very well be wrong.

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  1. Bold As Brass (3:31)
  2. My Mistake (3:02)
  3. Parrot Fashion Love (3:54)
  4. Sugar and Spice (3:48)
  5. Without a Doubt (6:08)
  6. Crossroads (3:26)
  7. Charlie (5:32)
  8. Nice To Know (4:24)
  9. Jamboree (6:36)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1977
Total running time: 40:21

Split Enz – Second Thoughts

Split Enz - Second ThoughtsThe band’s second album curiously rehashed several songs from their first, but beefed up and fine-tuned the group’s sound considerably and, including some new gems (many of them actually new recordings of the Enz’s earliest singles and live favorites), created a vastly superior album. The vocals are more straightforward than the old-man-telling-a-story approach used by Phil Judd on Mental Notes, and the entire group is in fine form, consistently cohesive for what would be the last time in 4 out of 4several years. My only gripe – they should’ve rerecorded the catchy “Maybe” from the first album and scrapped “The Woman Who Loves You”. That would have made this quite possibly the most perfect album ever to emerge from the south Pacific, beating anything Men at Work or INXS could ever have dreamed of concocting…still, as it is, it’s on my DNP Album List!

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  1. Late Last Night (4:04)
  2. Walking Down a Road (5:28)
  3. Titus (3:16)
  4. Lovey Dovey (3:09)
  5. Sweet Dreams (5:08)
  6. Stranger Than Fiction (7:06)
  7. Time for a Change (4:07)
  8. Matinee Idyll (129) (2:57)
  9. The Woman Who Loves You (6:56)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 42:11

Split Enz – Mental Notes

Split Enz - Mental NotesOfficially the first Split Enz album (though the music on 1979’s Beginning of the Enz predates it by as much as three years), this is a promising collection from a group that would not hit its stride for a few years. It’s almost impossible to describe Split Enz in a way that the average American listener can understand, because there has never been anything like the Enz in the States. They’re definitely capable of rocking and even reaching into the heavy end of the spectrum, but most of all, their music is imbued with a whimsical wit quite unlike anything else and in their early work, they seemed to prefer a lighter approach with mild percussion, an electric or acoustic piano, an acoustic guitar and maybe an electric thrown into the mix. These guys had fun when they played, and it comes across in the music itself. The closest I can think of would be 10cc – and they’re from Britain! For an introduction to the Enz, I’d recommend the following year’s Second Thoughts much more than Mental Notes, which finds charm in its 3 out of 4roughness, but suffers from a vocal style that sounds like a hundred-year-old man telling a story he’s told once too often. Still, this album is the home of one of my all-time favorite Enz tunes, Maybe, which never made it as a single according to what I’ve read (though I find that hard to believe). It’s hard to describe Split Enz, but easy to like them.

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  1. Walking Down a Road (5:26)
  2. Under the Wheel (7:49)
  3. Amy (Darling) (5:18)
  4. So Long For Now (3:19)
  5. Stranger Than Fiction (6:58)
  6. Time for a Change (3:46)
  7. Maybe (2:59)
  8. Titus (3:13)
  9. Spellbound (5:00)
  10. Mental Notes (0:33)

Released by: Msuhroom
Release date: 1975
Total running time: 44:71

Split Enz – The Beginning of the Enz

Split Enz - The Beginning of the EnzThis album begins with the first two songs written and performed by Tim Finn and Phil Judd, then known, along with a handful of comrades, as a new all-acoustic band in New Zealand called “Split Ends” (also the title of one of those songs). The very sparse sound present in most of the band’s first singles – gathered here on one album a few years after the fact – is haunting, particularly the mysterious “Spellbound”, the rather sad “No Bother To Me”, and the hysterical “Sweet Talking Spoon Song”. As the album goes on, the 3 out of 4band gets more electric and employs more studio know-how, but it’s all identifiably Split Enz and makes for teriffic listening. In the case of “Spellbound”, this early version is considerably superior to the later version on Mental Notes in its simplicity! And the sound of Te Awamutu had a truly sacred ring.

  1. Split Ends (1:53)
  2. For You (3:53)
  3. Order this CD 129 (2:51)
  4. Home Sweet Home (3:46)
  5. Sweet Talking Spoon Song (3:25)
  6. No Bother To Me (3:13)
  7. Malmsbury Villa (2:52)
  8. Lovey Dovey (3:26)
  9. Spellbound (4:35)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1979
Total running time: 29:54

Split Enz – See Ya ‘Round

Split Enz - See Ya 'RoundThis much maligned album spelled the end of the Enz. Perhaps the reason so many have a dim view of this finale is because Tim Finn left after Conflicting Emotions, and left Neil in charge, who with percussionist Noel Crombie and keyboard-god Eddie Rayner represented the only survivors of the band’s late 70s lineup. Tim’s absence doesn’t invalidate See Ya ‘Round automatically, though; despite the considerably more synthesized approach, the music is recognizably Split Enz material. The sound is geared much more toward synths, sequencers and drum machines than previous Enz fare, and Neil’s somber songwriting conveys the feel of Crowded House much more than Split Enz. Still, there are some fantastic songs within – including “One Mouth Is Fed”, “Years Go By” and the deceptively bouncy “Kia Kaha”, all 3 out of 4of which center around dark themes such as the unfairness of life and the inevitability of change and death. This album also contains the first appearance of “I Walk Away”, which would be revived in a much more reserved form on the first Crowded House album. I like it a lot, but some with less flexible interpretations of what made Split Enz the band that it was don’t seem to enjoy it as much.

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  1. Breakin’ My Back (3:53)
  2. I Walk Away (3:50)
  3. Doctor Love (4:17)
  4. One Mouth Is Fed (3:27)
  5. Years Go By (4:14)
  6. Voices (3:31)
  7. The Lost Cat (5:40)
  8. Adz (4:13)
  9. This Is Massive (3:18)
  10. Kia Kaha! (4:07)
  11. Ninnie Knees Up (3:17)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 43:57