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Split Enz - Mental Notes CD (album) cover


Split Enz


Crossover Prog

4.07 | 54 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Part music hall vaudeville, part eccentric comedy, part art-rock, this debut album from SPLIT ENZ is the nearest the band ever came to prog rock.

'Mental Notes' is a delicious combination of sympathetically handled tunes, zany originality and understated compositional values. What the album doesn't have is any vestige of virtuosity: these seven lads were more interested in the effect of their music than in extended solos or side-long epics. The songs, while all of high quality, take time to absorb. They've often been compared to 10CC: the production values are far lower and the humour is less acidic, but the comparison is apt. There's also nothing even remotely radio-friendly on this record.

FINN and JUDD's vocals are certainly an acquired taste. Their theatrical delivery serves to heighten the performance aspect of the band, and it's certainly true that SPLIT ENZ come across far better live than in the studio. 'Walking Down the Road' starts the album in fine style, with FINN delivering a restrained performance - in contrast to JUDD's affected vibrato in the magnificent 'Under The Wheel'. Now this is classic ENZ, with a symphonic prog treatment backing JUDD's insanity. Back to FINN with 'Amy', a knees-up of a song and rather dispensable fare compared to the rest of the album. The slapstick 'So Long For Now' is splendid fun. 'Stranger than Fiction', one of the best things the ENZ ever did, melts us with lovely synths before introducing a big beat and a FLOYDIAN guitar strum: make no mistake, this is a monster. You'll probably loathe the vocals - I do - but you get the point fairly quickly. Welcome to SPLIT ENZ's warped sideshow vision of the world. Their prog preoccupations are clearly illustrated in the Gormenghast-influenced lyrics of both this and 'Titus'.

Luscious mellotron descends like a blanket on 'Time for a Change', transforming a simple ballad into a dramatic piece. 'Maybe' returns to the land of vaudeville, and is a welcome break from the growing seriousness of the preceding tracks. 'Titus' lets JUDD weird us out for a bit, then the album finishes with 'Spellbound', one of the ENZ's earliest cuts reworked with studio wizardry into a disturbing sound collage, CHUNN's bass to the fore (MIKE CHUNN would bravely admit to bipolar disorder and front a national mental health campaign).

In more professional hands these tracks could have been worked into something outstanding. PINK FLOYD could have made a couple of billion-selling albums from this material. Thing is, SPLIT ENZ, like most New Zealanders, preferred to paint on a smaller canvas. Modest ambitions, not putting oneself above one's mates and all that.

It's unlikely you've heard anything quite like this. For the adventurous and lovers of melodic art-rock.

russellk | 4/5 |


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