March Through Time: Split Enz

Back in the very early 1980s, I had a fake ID card. It wasn’t something I acquired to facilitate alcohol purchases; no, I just wanted to gain entry to the Agora Ballroom in Atlanta. I got to see many great shows, including The Bus Boys, The Blasters, and – on two separate tours – Split Enz. The band was fantastic both times, and I had my 35mm camera along, capturing some great images. The group was at its commercial zenith, touring in support of Waiata and then Time and Tide, but I dug into their back catalog as well, discovering some superb music. Here’s a quick look at their catalog.

  • Mental Notes (1975) – In their earliest days, the Enz were led by Phil Judd. His deeply idiosyncratic songs fit well with the band’s outré visuals. Here they sound a bit like Roxy Music crossed with Skyhooks; their original songs are great, arty stuff, a kind of missing link connecting prog, glam, art rock and what we’d come to know as new wave. Released only in Australia and New Zealand, I think.

  • Second Thoughts (1976) – A sort of remake of that debut, with new recordings and some new songs. It’s quite good, if a bit redundant.

  • Dizrythmia (1977) – The band’s lineup changed a bit around this time, with Judd fading away and Tim Finn coming more to the fore. Finn brings a more accessible sensibility without sacrificing the arty angle.

  • Frenzy (1979) – Not released in the U.S. until the later albums broke the band here, this finds the band streamlining its sound with excellent results. Quirky, less overly arty, and with a more pronounced punk influence (see “I See Red”). UPDATE: I had forgotten that I wrote a retrospective review of this LP in 2019.

  • True Colours (1980) – The first breakthrough, with the hit “I Got You.” The whole album is superb, and Tim’s little brother Neil has come to the fore with great songwriting and a marked Beatles influence.

  • Waiata/Corroboree (1981) – This one is pretty much True Colours, Slight Return. It’s nearly as good, better in spots in fact, but signs of stress are beginning to show.

  • Time and Tide (1982) – A second breakthrough, with Tim Finn’s songs edging to the front of the pack.

  • Conflicting Emotions (1983) – The title suggests internal turmoil. But there’s some absolutely amazing music here, along with some uncharacteristically weak stuff. “Message to My Girl” is the highlight, but there are several others. Still recommended.

  • See Ya ‘Round (1984) – Tim was gone by this point. See Ya Round is sort of Split Enz’s answer to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Mardi Gras, with everyone contributing songs whether they were up to the task or not. Neil Finn’s songs are great. This LP was never issued in the U.S. But – thanks to the Neil Finn-heavy side, it’s essential listening for Enz fans as well as those who appreciate Crowded House (you’ll recognized some of the songs). I wrote a detailed look at this LP years ago.

  • The Living Enz (1985) – Split Enz was an underrated live act. This double LP – never released in the USA – captures them very late in the game. Visuals were a big part of the group’s live appeal (along with Noel Crombie’s spoons solos) and those are obviously missing here. But it’s worth seeking out.

Note: If you can find a copy of Stranger Than Fiction, the Split Enz history by early member Mike Chunn, get it. It’s a great read.