brent johnson digs up a few lost treasures from Split Enz …
They started as a theatrical art-rock band that sometimes played lounge songs and often wore facepaint.
They ended as a new wave group with a cache of taut, catchy pop tunes.
In other words, Split Enz were a strange encapsulation of the shifts and shuffles of 1970s rock. Even though they’ve never attained much beyond cult status in America.
They formed in New Zealand in the early 1970s, led by singer-songwriters Tim Finn and Phil Judd. Like early Genesis, they commanded attention with costumes and elaborate stage shows — only with sleeker, slimmer songs. A co-worker recently alerted me to the wacky splendor of the following clip:
Judd left after a few albums, and was soon replaced by Finn’s younger brother, Neil. That’s when things started to change. They tightened and polished their songwriting. Suddenly, they sounded like an Australian version of Squeeze. Close your eyes, and you might even mistake Neil for Glenn Tilbrook. In 1979, Split Enz scored their first and only Top 20 British hit: ‘I Got You,’ one of the best new wave singles ever recorded.
There’s also ‘One Step Ahead’ — proof that while the British Invasion may have been the greatest era for chord progressions, 1970s new wave wasn’t far behind:
Or you might want to try ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat,’ which morphs from an eerie piece of quasi-classical synth music into a jaunty acoustic number:
I could go on.
The Finn brothers parted ways in the mid-1980s. Neil went on to finally find success in America with a new band: Crowded House, which nabbed a No. 2 U.S. hit in 1987 with ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over.’ (You know: ‘Hey now, hey now, don’t dreeeeeaaammmm ….’)
But sift through all the Split Enz videos on YouTube, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that doesn’t catch your eyes. Or ears.