Split Enz

Originality was the key to Split Enz's success
The musically inventive and visually theatrical band Split Enz emerged in Australia in the latter half of the 1970s and while we were were more than happy to claim them, the band was in fact born in New Zealand. Enz was  formed at Auckland University in 1971 and the original line-up included Phil Judd, Tim Finn, Noel Crombie, Robert Gillies and Mike Chunn.

When Judd left the band (he later rejoined) the gap was filled by Tim's younger brother Neil and in 1974, noted  keyboard player Eddie Raynor joined the group. In the following year, after garnering a significant following in NZ, they made the shift to Australia, changing their name from Split Ends to Split Enz, as a fond nod to their home country.

Musically, the band saw a transition from an early 70s interest in progressive rock to pop/new wave, enjoying critical acclaim with the release of their 1975 album Mental Notes, however  their greatest commercial successes arrived in the early 80s. Accessible but still quirkily original songs such as I see Red, I Got You, My Mistake, History, I Hope I Never and Message to my Girl, enjoyed some respectable chart success in Australia and helped them achieve a cult following beyond Australian shores.

A move to London in the late 70s saw pressures and tensions increase within the band, though after some initial friction, they achieved a considerable following there and  producing several albums along the way, including Second Thoughts, Dizrythmia and their greatest commercial triumph,True Colours. The band had made a conscious decision to tone down the theatrical weirdness and concentrate on a pop orientated sound. While Eddie Raynor is credited with contributing significantly to the bands musical development, Noel Crombie is generally regarded as the chief image shaper, having contributed greatly to the creation of their unique visual identity.

A Stand-out
UK single cover for I Got You
Split Enz were ahead of their time, stylistically and musically- their videos and stage performances had a Vaudevillian flavour but with an ultra modern, innovative slant and in a decade that had been dominated by disco and slick, laid-back US East Coast music, the band was mesmerisingly new and fresh. It was an eccentric style that alienated some but resonated with many - full blown punk and New Wave were lying just around the corner in the next decade and Enz were an early portent of the changes that would follow.

In 1983 the band took a fateful break, during which Tim produced a successful solo album. The momentum of Split Enz began to slide and although they produced the Conflicting Emotion album together, Tim eventually hooked up with succulent actress Greta Scacchi and  flew off to England to pursue an independent career. Split Enz continued without Tim for a time with the new inclusion of Paul Hester who had brought in on drums but it's hard to mend a split end and the band fizzled out in December, '94. Following the demise of the Enz, Neil and  Paul Hester went on to  form one of the most successful bands the Southern Hemisphere has ever produced.

Crowded House
Crowded House enjoyed International success in the late 80s and 90s, largely due a tight fitting musical line-up and the considerable song writing skills of Neil Finn, who is regarded as something of a legend, certainly by this writer. Dont Dream it's Over ( 1987) and Weather with you (1992) both hit the top ten in the US charts.

Finn's songs are surprising, infused with imaginative images. Sometimes an unexpected phrase will  jump out at the listener; for example, ' fresh, like a daisy, chained up in a lion's den'  [When You Come] has a dissonance that grabs the attention.  Finn  frequently uses metaphor and simile to conjure emotions, such as 'peeling back the coats of lies and deceptions -into nothingness, like a week in the desert' [Better Be home Soon]. Phrases such as 'haunting and poignant' are common descriptions of his  moodier songs although he's versatile enough to  capable of  producing bouncy, upbeat compositions like Something So Strong and Pineapple Head.

1986 Crowded House album cover
Interestingly, it's been noted that the songs often require repeated playing as new layers seem to open up the more they're listened to. According to Finn, “ I don’t know whether it has to do with the fact that the songs have a certain subtlety to them which emerges after repeated listenings or because I have worked on them in the studio a lot and there are certain layers of interest built into them that I get very used to. I get very accustomed to them but for other people they emerge the second or third time". Finn describes his song writing process thus;

“A set of chords and a melody almost always to begin with and hopefully there’ll be a few lines to go with that. Occasionally the words will come pouring out and they write themselves in a very short time. But a lot of the time you just get a few key phrases and work on it. I usually like to have a tape recorder running when I’m writing and then I can refer  I often try to do a very quick and immediate demo of the song, put a few layers and harmonies on. Basically so I can have a pleasurable listening experience. I try to make something that I like to listen to and it’s often only two minutes long, just a skeleton of a song, but I know that if I can listen back to it at the end of the night more than half a dozen times, and it sounds better to me, then I know I am on a winner.”
Australian Musician Issue 26, 2001

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