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The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part III, the End of the Enz

As we learned in part II of this 3 part series, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil joined the band for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk was raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

Split Enz Vol_III Band Photo

Where we left off, this marvelous act had released a two-fer-of ear candy – True Colors (1981), and Waiata (1981). The two albums that came next will forever go down in the cannon of proggy-new-wave music as absolutely perfect records based every possible measure.

Split Enz Vol_III Time&TideCover_72dpiTime and Tide was recorded in 1981 and released in 1982; the third number 1 album Split Enz brought to ANZ. Tim’s opener to side 1, “Dirty Creatures” (also written by Neil and Nigel) and accompanying video were instant classics for new wavers of the 80’s. “Pioneer/Six Months in a Leaky Boat” grace side 2 and similarly nail every newly minted model in the new wave genre, while being a bit of a sea shanty at the same time! Said to be somewhat autobiographical, the Creatures/Six Months tracks were instant Tim Finn-led classics. In between, Tim’s “Never Ceases to Amaze Me,” and “Small World” cap a brilliant collection from this tenor wonderkind.

The pair of Finn brothers are credited with “Lost for Words,” quite possibly the greatest Enz song on record. Great lyric: “I can’t relate, to your vicious excuses, the damage has all been done, and talking is useless….” Now listen to the bass/drum beats of the verse/chorus and in particular the middle section, while Eddie plays a haunting set of chords that chill, leading back to the verse “I’m looking for words, I give it all I got, And I’m lost for words, you don’t even listen – its’ all been said before so I’ll just turn and walk away.”

Neil is not to be outdone on this classic Enz record. He checks in with “Hello Sandy Allen,” (the world’s tallest woman) and my favorite early Neil track, “Take a Walk.” The lilt of his upbeat guitar, the happy yet seriously dramatic sound of Eddie’s piano thrill as Neil sings:

I could take a walk again
Up a mountain to a stream
Standing on the open rock
Looking out over the sea
Funny when we move ahead
Never worry what we leave behind
Remember what a friend of mine said
You gotta be kind

Truer words…..

Now, before the band composition “Make Sense Of It” which closes the record, the brothers each pen a classic seemingly autobiographical two-fer – Tim’s “Haul Away” (“at 21 I was thirsting for experience and my brain was about to burst”) and Neil’s more haunting, dramatic reading, “Log Cabin Fever:”

It’s cold out hear the wind howl down the chimney
Wish I could just cry out to someone, help
But we live in isolation of the cruelest kind
Scared to show our colours to the world

Time to break away from my condition
Rejoin the human race, see what I’m missing
Try to face the day my private passion
Is eating me away

It’s well worth mentioning at this point that Noel Crombie (drums) and Nigel Griggs (bass) have honed their fine skills to the point that every song is anchored and embellished with their work. Many of the most effective parts they play are based on a kind of aboriginal tribal sound, a compelling combination of tones that will move even the most jaded listener. They teach a master class at the low end.

Split Enz Vol_III Live VHSThat any tour dates from the Time and Tide tour were caught on video is a miracle. It was getting more common by the early 80’s to capture bands on video, but we have many examples to share of groups that have paltry little to show in terms of live in concert documentation.

The live show is taken from an evening in Canada at Hamilton Place in 1982. While to date only available on VHS and YouTube, hopes remain that a proper restoration will come to light for those who never saw the band in their prime.

 

———————

Split Enz Vol_III ConflictingCover_72dpiThe final recording to feature the classic 1980-1983 lineup of Split Enz follows Time and Tide. Marred by a lack of basic PR — hampered by mistakes made by Mushroom Records, they do only a short tour for this record upon its release in 1983. Instead, Tim releases his first solo album, a beautiful work titled Escapade, and the band, essentially, spontaneously dissolves. This time though, Tim’s outside work allow more focus on Neil, who pens 6 of the tracks on this final brothers-together album Conflicting Emotions. Importantly, Neil’s work includes the ode to his newborn son, Liam, called “Our Day.” Considered by this ardent fan as Neil’s greatest lyrical achievement (with unbelievable band backing) the singer /multi-instrumentalist /songwriter pens the greatest cautionary welcome to a child, still in the womb, ever attempted:

Let our love create another life
It’s growing even as we speak
He don’t know what’s waiting for him here
Suspended in his dream sleep
His mother’s all around him
His father’s just a sound to him, singing gently
We have promised him a future
So I’m hoping that tomorrow
Is, was, and will ever be

And we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

There’s a face that I will come to love
That I have never seen before
There’s a brain that’s absolutely free
From any kind of conscious thought
You are me, and you are she
It won’t be long ’til we meet
And I’ll be going on a journey
In a flimsy paper boat upon a stormy sea

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

I’m shaking like a leaf
Wound up like a spring tonight
You say this ain’t no place for children
Oh God, I hope that what we’ve done is right
Am I vain to feel as if the world
Owes anything at all to me
Searching, burning, tossing and turning
Desperately

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
Can’t imagine what the future holds
Just hoping there is one

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

Hear this my son, I promise you the best that we can do
We love, we love, we love, we love, we love, we love you…

© Neil Finn / Split Enz

(I hope sincerely that Neil does not mind the reprint here – I do not like to do this, but I talked to Liam about this song, and he shared that it was truly written for him, and it’s just one of the best lyrics written ever, ever, ever, period (peace Neil)).

Neil Finn just nails everything he does on Conflicting Emotions, including opener “Straight Old Line” (also objectively, the best video of the band) “Message To My Girl” (which sent hearts a flutter all over the world), and “No Mischief” followed by “The Devil You Know.” At this point it’s clear — and fortunate, Neil is ready to lead the band, and eventually form his own, Crowded House.

Tim contributes stellar tracks once again, “Working Up An Appetite,” “I Wake Up Every Night” ” (ode to dance lover – this time he do want to dance!), “Conflicting Emotions,” (their most spacey, proggy cut of the band’s catalog and an overt vocal display of vibrotechnics (my word)) and the absolutely gorgeous, heart rending finale “Bon Voyage.” Any listener who by this time does not understand why Tim is one of this earth’s greatest ever tenors, is frankly deaf.

Yes there is some controversy over this album, ignore it, the greatest art we have in this world is marred by controversy, and this is no exception. But, it does mark the point where Tim leaves the band he had started way back in the 70’s, just after Conflicting Emotions, the band’s finest hour.

Photos of the Conflicting Emotions Tour © 1983 Graeme Plenter:
http://www.rockvizion.net/artists/splitenz.html

Split Enz Vol_III See Ya RoundNeil bats “clean up” in 1984 with a collection of songs that were B-sides (“Kia Kaha (Ever Be Strong)”), or were destined for the first Crowded House release (“I Walk Away”). “This Is Massive” is credited to new drummer, and future CH skins maestro Paul Hester. Titled See Ya ‘Round the final album caused more than a few dry eyes to tear up, as it represented the Enz of an era (I can’t help myself). It’s a great album in it’s own right, and while Neil was reportedly uncomfortable going it alone as to Finn family members, it does not show in the results. Tim returned for an “Enz With A Bang” tour, an Australasian outing that once again missed the UK, Europe, and North America – Tim sings his first solo hit, “Fraction Too Much Friction” as part of the long set list and over and out it was. The live album taken from the tour is fantastic.

Split Enz Vol_III Big CanoeAs fair readers will know, to round out the period from 1977-1987, Tim released his second solo album, the masterwork Big Canoe in 1986 and Neil released the first Crowded House album also in 1986. It’s important to state here clearly that Tim’s Big Canoe is a critically overlooked work —  it’s at once accessible, complex, multi-layered music that has to be heard on a proper stereo, hopefully with a small bit of dance floor, waiting near by.

 

The rest is history, including reunions, Tim joining the House for Woodface (1991) and the Finn brothers very special first album together and alone, Finn (1995).

Split Enz Vol_III Band Photo 2

So many of my friends who were drunk on the elixir of “prog rock” did not “get” Split Enz, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening as they did to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them! How an album like Time and Tide could only make it to 58 on the U.S. Billboard charts and penultimate album Conflicting Emotions lagging at 137 shows just how clueless we were in the states as to this legendary band. I blame, in part, Mushroom records, and the unfair fate of so many of our greatest artists. Nonetheless these men went on to great success and all is well in our very very small world (it’s not a very big house for a large family!).

Fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – for the Waiata tour — an amazingly fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. Check it out, along with Tim’s and Neil’s post 1984 work, along with the rest of the individual band members, who together and apart continued to labor in relative obscurity.

 

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part II, the Hard Act To Follow

Split Enz Vol_II Band2My next book will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

As we learned in part I, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

The band, now a bit more honed, recorded and released their final album from the formative years, Frenzy (1979). By now, punk has splintered into a dozen branches of far more interesting music, goth, ska, Burundi/jungle/island themed rock, and…”the” new wave. Standout track “I See Red” leads to the Split Enz 1980’s work, refining and honing what it means to be an “art rock” band, sometimes almost “prog rock” yet be danceable, fun, and truly what we came to call the “new wave.”

Split Enz Vol_II True ColorsIndeed 1980’s True Colors was a complete revelation. Less makeup, soon to be none little circus atmosphere, save stage craft and coordinated brightly colored suits (classy yeah!) just serious new wave music designed perfectly to make everyone love the Enz, and love them us smart ones did. Kicking off with their first big hit “I Got You” a Neil Finn composition and lead vocal, an ANZ #1, this was now music to be reckoned with. Add to that, follow up Tim Finn rocker “Shark Attack” and you are talking one fine album! Now take the standout ballad, “I Hope I Never”- if you can really, really listen to those lyrics, and Tim’s yearning, soulful voice singing,…

“I hope I never, I hope I never have to seeeeeeee you again”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMBoDtz1ooY

Split Enz Vol_II Tim Finn

…and not wrest a tear from your eye, you are, as I like to joke to non-criers frequently, “made of stone.” It’s one of the most beautiful songs of the 1980’s and it’s important to note, because by this point keys player Eddie Raynor who graces this one with synth strings and amazing grand piano, is really giving the 70’s proggers a run. Really. Tim kicks off “side 2” with “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” indeed. Neil “fights back” with “Missing Person” sung together with Tim, initially intended to be the first single (really?). Now, spin the next one, and to me the one that shows how ready this band is for stardom.  “Poor Boy” is another Tim Finn gem – take the bass/drum sync of Nigel and Malcolm, expertly pinning down the track on the bottom end, the spacy-synth – “she speaks to me with ultra-high frequency” and Neil’s tightly wound guitar licks…. Gonna listen till I grow old, for sure, yes, please – this music stands the test of time. Those of you who know these songs can follow this chain of thought, this unadulterated affection for the band. The rest of you hit the Spotify, Apple Music, or disks and study up!

Split Enz Vol_II WaiataIt’s tempting to categorize 1981’s Corroboree/Waiata as a sequel to True Colors. Not so. Here is the track list of the most important songs – can you even believe the first “side” of the LP is so perfectly arranged, and “side 2” does not, in any way let up? It may be their most perfect “non proggy” album, refining as it did the definition of new wave music, for the (much much) better.

All songs written by Tim Finn, except where noted. Side one:

  1. “Hard Act to Follow” – 3:17
  2. One Step Ahead” (Neil Finn) – 2:52
  3. I Don’t Wanna Dance” – 3:34
  4. “Iris” (N. Finn) – 2:50
  5. “Wail” (Eddie Rayner) – 2:49
  6. “Clumsy” – 3:29

Side two:

  1. History Never Repeats” (N. Finn) – 3:00
  2. “Walking Through the Ruins” – 4:15
  3. “Ships” (N. Finn) – 3:01
  4. “Ghost Girl” – 4:26
  5. “Albert of India” (Rayner) – 4:03

Just “Hard Act” “One Step” and “I Don’t Wanna Dance” would make a successful album. The third is the most new wave of the new wavers, so danceable, so much vibrato, so much tenor/falsetto – Neil’s guitar, Eddies synth patch, bass/drums all building the story of the boy who is too het to dance, without his sweetheart. On record, this is now one unbelievably great band. Follow up tracks “Iris” “Wail” (not my favorite) “Clumsy” complete side 1. Side two cracks open with “History” then “Walking” later “Ghost Girl” which is better than it has any possible right to be – are you kidding? “Don’t get too close boys to the ghost girl, she’s already haunting you” the clever lyrics seem so easy, so natural for them, both brothers always and to this day make it sound so easy – but just try to turn a simple phrase like that with just the right musical backdrop – art indeed.

So many of my progger friends just did not get this music, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them.

Split Enz Vol_II Band

So fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. And, it was the first and only time I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – an amazing fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. I remember the band in good spirits, “talking the piss” out of each other, Tim doing push ups, Neil generally appearing a bit more dignified, and all of the musicianship being plainly stellar, with Eddie standing out even live with those amazing ivories. Check it out. Part III soon.

 

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era — The Early Years

SplitEnz_Beginning

My next book Rockin’ Fog City, will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better, we danced a lot more, and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977, leading directly to the decade that followed. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). They released a couple of albums with Tim and Paul at the helm, The band in costume, makeup and with Tim in front, the voice of an tenor angel, and moves a-quirky, all of which accented the music. Sometimes called “art rock” sometimes alternative, with elements of vaudeville, Split Enz of that early era was a strange brew of “music hall”, “performance art”, and just-plain-fun music, making them maybe the earliest progenitors of what became “new wave” music. As smart music lovers know, in 1977, Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, and history was made.

SplitEnz_MentalNotes_72dpiSplit Enz released their first album Mental Notes in 1975, and Second Thoughts in 1976, Recorded in London, their second effort is the first really listenable Enz album in this writer’s humble opinion. The record included several reworked songs from their debut, and some new bits. Contained in the result is a lot of what made this band great and what also makes anything the Finn brothers have done since, exceptional. Check out “Sweet Dreams” from that album for evidence of their supremacy. Check out the cast members – Ti

SplitEnz_SecodThoughts_172dpim & Phil, joined by Jonathan Chunn (bass), Noel Crombie (percussion), Emlyn Crowther (drums), Robert Fillies (Sax/Trumpet), maestro Edward Rayner (keys) and assorted luminaries. Get this all, who engineered this album… Rhett Davies (Supertramp anyone?), and who produced it… none other than Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera! The Enz had opened for Roxy Music on their first Australian tour, and had decamped from New Zealand to Australia to build their fan base. Phil was intrigued, and arranged their travel to London to record this gem. Second Thoughts were thunk, and the group’s fortunes grew from there.

SplitEnz_Dispythia_72dpiEnter younger brother Neil Finn in 1977 for follow up Dizrythmia (1977). Anyone ever have “jet lag” will get the title’s reference and applicability to the band’s experience at the time. At first, Neil plays into the vaudeville, circus atmosphere. Phil & Mike are there but abut to be gone from the band, as Neil takes over on guitar, and new permanent member Nigel Griggs on bass. They have the first “bigger” hit, “My Mistake.” While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was making quiet preparations to draw us into their loving circle.

Check out Tim’s performance of Dizryhmia’s “Charlie” in London
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlnJPVE-gdY

Split Enz V_1 Tim Finn

Fast forward if you must to the 6 minute mark of this video, though who does not have 6 minutes to watch the whole thing? At 6 minutes, Eddie takes center stage musically, features his amazingly beautiful grand piano chops, as Tim sings, “Sunlight, halo, you look wonderful, darling Charlie…, pale and deathly still… for heaven’s sake wake up….Charlie”

Clearly the songwriting partnership of brothers Neil and Tim was kicking into gear, as you notice the touching lyrics, Tim’s delivery, and Neil’s blooming chops on guitar, soon to be co-writer-lead-vocalist as well.

SplitEnz_Frenzy_172dpiFinally, catch the follow up – forth album Frenzy, the first to really push Neil to the fore, with his growing skills on guitar, vocals, and songwriting. Tim wrote most songs, and there are some gems. “I See Red” indeed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKj4upY1VYI

 

Split Enz V_1 Band Frenzy

But, it’s still a bit of a distance to what was to come next, a honed down version of the band, ready to record 4 absolutely exceptional albums, starting with 1980’s masterpiece True Colors and ending with 1983’s absolute masterwork, and unjustly ignored diamond Conflicting Emotions (1983).

If you are not aware of the pedigree and history of Split Enz, you should be, my friends. But… be warned, while the first four albums, covered here, ending with Frenzy, may excite your eyes (see the videos) it might not be candy for your ears. It’s a tad quirky to say the least, while Tim and the band were finding their way to stardom.

Split Enz V_II NeilFinn_Portrait_cAG_144dpi

 

Ra Ra Riot and… Tim Finn?

RaRaRiot_Independent_72dpiMy friend Tim from Seattle recommended Ra Ra Riot to me a couple of years ago. He’s one of those guys like me who still make mix tapes (okay, CDs now, soon to be Spotify lists?). We do this each year to introduce friends to our favorite music, to recommend new or old bands, and their albums or singles. Ra Ra Riot, a danceable type of “indie rock with strings” outfit hails from Syracuse, New York. They struck me immediately as an infectious upbeat act featuring talented musicians, electric and acoustic instruments and vocalist, multi-instrumentalist Wes Miles. This remarkable singer is able to hit soaring soulful notes in a high tenor register, and has a beautiful falsetto technique, clear and strong. The musicians joining him include Mathieu Santos (bass), Milo Bonacci (guitar), Rebecca Zeller (violin) and Kenny Bernard (drums).They have been together for ten years, and just released their fourth album, Need Your Light. Take a listen to opening track “Water” to catch their sound. Then try the older track Tim included on the CD mix, “Boy” from their 2011 album The Orchard. It’s definitely more like the band Capital Cities than The National!

RaRaRiot_Band_72dpi

In concert at the Independent theater, in San Francisco, March 27, 2016, the band was in top form, clearly healthy, joyous and well rehearsed. The set list included most of the songs from the new album, and they sounded terrific live, remarkably close to the studio RaRaRiot_NeedYourLight_72dpirecordings, but with that extra presence and pumped up energy live performance can bring. On stage, a guest cello player filled in for departed member Alexandra Lawn, adding heft to the strings led by multi-instrumentalist Zeller. And, yes they played “Boy” to enthusiastic dancing and applause.

RaRaRiot_Band2_72dpi

Standing there listening to the band, I was thinking about how few indie rock and recent alt rock bands have this kind of cheerful sound. Been listening to a lot of Radiohead, Muse, The National, and others who are really moodier and darker. It had me thinking about the 1980s music scene, and the dark and light ends of the spectrum, represented most notably by the likes of The Smiths (dark), and Bow Wow Wow (light). Given Wes Miles’ voice, I was reminded most of the band Split Enz and the solo work of their founder, Tim Finn.

RaRaRiot_TimFinnPromoPhoto_72dpi

RaRaRiot_SplitEnz_ConflictingCover_72dpiNew Zealand band Split Enz began very differently than it ended. They started out in 1972, featuring Phil Judd and Tim Finn as leaders of an art rock, vaudeville act, adorned in outrageous costumes and matching stage antics. Once brother Neil Finn joined in 1980, they transformed their music to focus more on a rock, pop and new wave sound. The two Finn’s and their band created some of the most adventurous music of that era, producing four fabulous albums True Colors (1980), Waiata / Corroboree (1981), Time and Tide (1982), and their masterpiece Conflicting Emotions (1983) at which point Tim left the band to start a solo career. For those down under, and for fans like me, the two brothers together were like Lennon/McCartney, such were their compositions, and the contrast in their perfectly paired voices. Neil led the group to produce one final album, appropriately titled See Ya ‘Round (1984) then going on to form the popular band Crowded House. Neil is certainly one of the greatest singer/songwriters on the planet. But for now, let’s focus on Tim who came so strongly to my mind during the Ra Ra Riot show.

TimFinn_EscapadeCover_72dpiTim Finn’s compositions and lead vocals on Conflicting Emotions and his first album Escapade (1983) are soulful and inspirational. His soaring tenor voice is one of the most dazzling instruments in the business. That first solo album, which is very light, breezy compared to his other work, was followed by the more assertive, instrumentally varied albums Big Canoe (1986, my favorite), and self-titled Tim Finn (1989) for which he hired nearly all of Peter Gabriel’s early 80s band (did you not know that, I bet not!)  Best to take a listen to the title track from Conflicting Emotions (if you don’t like the mysterious intro, meant to invoke emotional confusion, skip to minute 1:30), or the song “In A Minor Key“ or “I Only Want to Know” from Escapade. Fantastic.

 

Last time I saw Tim Finn live was also at The Independent. It was an amazing show from start to finish. This enduring talent continues to record and perform today. The Ra Ra Riot concert at the same venue ten years later, was similarly inspirational and I will be following them going forward, starting at this summer’s Outside Lands festival, where they will be on the bill with Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Air among many others. Highly recommended.

RaRaRiot_Duo_72dpi