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Split Enz - Second Thoughts [Aka: Mental Notes] CD (album) cover


Split Enz

Crossover Prog

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4 stars An awkward album to review considering, four songs are reproduced Mental Notes tracks, of these you'll notice that Rob Gillies brass replaced Wilkinson's guitars. Although I prefer the guitars, Rob Gillies Saxs and trumpets make the music a little more idiosyncratic while Wilkinson at times sounds more like Hackett. The reasons for the four Mental Notes tracks are: 1. As a whole, Enz were dissappointed by the production of Mental Notes 2. This was actually called Mental Notes in the northern hemisphere, complete with an altered original Mental Notes cover. Phil Judd was against the idea of rehashing Mental Notes material, and I agree I would much rather here some more of their immense load of early unrecorded music. While Tim wanted the Mental Note songs just right. This controvery leaves me in a difficult position reviewing this album, If Mental Notes did not exist this would easily be a 4-5 star rating. One of its main strengths is that their is more of a return to the earlier idiosyncratic sound and less Symphonic sound I think. I believe Enz thrived on their vaudiville idiosyncracies, I sounds more natural, rather than the symphonic style; which at times sounds a little forced. I do like Manzenera's production style he cared more about the music than the previous less sympathetic one. The never songs are all little gems. Sweet Dreams is a classic one of Judd's finest moments, I first heard this actually on a video of theirs years ago, Its a great piece with a chaotic keyboard trumpet piece. Lovy Dovy is another brilliant track quite different from the single version that is available on Beginnings of the Enz. The Women who Loves You has a classic Noel Crombie spoon solo, while Matinee Idyll features former member Miles Golding on Violin (whom they met up in Britain, playing for the symphony orchestra over there). Late Last Night starts off quiet and jazzy, but then becomes a more popier but with this clumsy, goofy, innocent sound - this is what I love about Enz they make you happy but they don't have a hateful bone in their body, and are harmless. One could gravitate from a three star to a five star on this album, depending your views on the comparison with Mental Notes. I'm giving it a four assuming you haven't heard Mental Notes, but like I said if you own Mental Notes you might be tempted to give this or Mental Notes a three. Personally altrhough I prefer Mental Notes, I think this album is better, because, as I mentioned earlier Rob Gillies brings the band back to a more natural unique fell and definately contributes more to the madness while Wilkenson makes them more typoical sounding. Secondly the production quality is infinately better. Thirdly this CD has Sweet Dreams on it, one of Judd's finest moments in my opinion. Four stars from me, but an awkward album to review.
Report this review (#122943)
Posted Monday, May 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Imagine the scene, suburban London, November 1977. Supposedly Punk rules and Prog Rock is dead. I turn on the television, BBC2, Sight and Sounds in concert and there is this 7 piece band dressed in harlequined zoot suits and with outrageous hair stylings, percussionist, trumpet and saxophone as well as standard instruments. They are playing an energetic prog rock with vaudeville overtones. One friend described it as Supertramp on acid; not quite right but I saw what he meant. Roxy Music, Genesis, Sargeant Pepper,Jethro Tull all in there somewhere but it is a unique sound. Later that evening I go to a party and there is a bloke there in a black and red quartered jacket and his hair fashioned into a spike just like the guitarist in the band I had been watching on telly. This guy is a Split Enz nut and next week with a couple of other friends we venture up to the Roundhouse to see the band themselves. These guys were absolutely awesome live. I doubt I've seen a better band in a small venue. Tim Finn was barnstorming, a brilliant vocalist, and the playing was tight, dynamic, varied, exciting; an unbelievable gig. Second thoughts (Mental Notes in the UK) is my favourite album of theirs (just) and they played a few songs from it that night including the live show stopper "the woman who loves you" complete with spoon solo from Noel Crombie the barking mad percussionist and art director for the band.Other highlights on the album include "Late last night" which starts like some sort of Cole Porter song but ends with a demented piano solo and a maelstrom of sax and trumpet. "Titus" is a beautiful little song with a wonderful trumpet solo. "Sweet dreams" is my all time favourite Split Enz song not usually included on compilations; fabulous driving acoustic guitar, stunning lyrics, great sax solo and touching, quiet coda evocative of the misery of a unrequited love. The album is not uniformly brilliant and I only give 5 stars grudgingly, but it well woth 4."Stranger than fiction/time for a change can drag if you are not in the mood but they still have their moments. But I would recommend it to anyone. If you think the Finn Brothers are just pop singers, which of course they can be and brilliant ones too, check out this album and Dizrythmia and be surprised!
Report this review (#124828)
Posted Wednesday, June 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Old songs, new songs

It is all very confusing! I have an LP by Split Enz called "Mental Notes", but I find it is not actually the band's first album, but one which is listed on this site as "Second thoughts". Further investigation reveals that many of the tracks on my album were in fact on the original "Mental notes", but these versions were re-recorded a year later in London with Phil Manzanera producing. It seems the original "Mental Notes" was a southern hemisphere release, the band's career effectively restarting in the northern hemisphere a year or so later.

The album starts off in very 10CC fashion with the bouncy "Late last night", a decent piece of sophisticated pop. This is one of five (of ten tracks) which are not common to both albums. The song sets the tone for much of the album, which is very heavily vocal with little room for instrumental development. Even when tracks such as "Walking down a road" do break for brief instrumentals, they are whimsical and lightweight.

"Titus" is notable for its fine arrangement, but the following "Lovey dovey" is almost punk like with hesitant trembling vocals and a jaunty rhythm. "Sweet dreams" has a slightly more interesting structure, but it is still very much a vocal based song with a catchy hook on the chorus.

The second side has arguably the more interesting tracks, specifically the 7 minute "Stranger than fiction" and the similarly timed "The woman who loves you". "Stranger than fiction" is one of the re-recordings from the first album the track boasting some decent guitar and overall some more interesting instrumentation. Tim Finn's piano work here also adds some attractive colours. "Time for a change" is for me the most enjoyable track on the album, the simple voice plus piano basis with added harmonies offering a welcome contrast to the majority of the album. There is a solo Peter Gabriel like feel to the song, especially when the track suddenly bursts open into a loud symphony. The Gabriel similarities are emphasised further in the "Counting out time" like "Matinee idyll".

"The woman who loves you" effectively closes the album, but fails to fulfil its promise, being a longer version of the educated pop of side one. My version of the LP includes a very brief tenth track, "Mental notes" which is entirely disposable.

In all, I cannot say Split Enz impress me as a band, let alone a prog band. Their music is generally too pop orientated and drifts too close to punk for my tastes. There are certainly moments of inspiration on this album, but overall I find it difficult to recommend it.

Report this review (#130817)
Posted Monday, July 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars During an Australian tour, dear friend Manzarena (Roxy) was so impressed by the band on stage that he convinced them to come over in the UK to pursue their career. It won't turn out as they would have wished, but they decided that the adventure was worth.

The first sign of their passage on English soil was the recording of this album. Actually, this is the UK version of their "Mental Notes" which was released in Australia a year before this one. Almost half of the songs appeared on both albums.

These four songs were re-arranged (not always for the best I must say). To have replaced the lead guitarist by a sax player was not a great idea IMO. It gives a soul aspect to the ensemble that was not worth ("Walking Down A Road"). Again, the brass section at the end of "Titus" is hard to bear.

My favourite song from "Mental Notes" was "Stranger Than Fiction". A rock opera on its own in its original format. Completely massacred here. What a poor treat! The fourth one being "Time For A Change" (?). While it featured fine mellotron originally, it is slightly downsized here. Still, it is the best of this album (together with "Late Last Night" and The Woman...).

Now, about the "new" songs.

Actually, there are only three of them here:

"Late Last Night" is fully in line with their incomparable and crazy sound; this time there is no hesitation. The arrangements, the mood changes, indescribable vocals: all of these remind the early "10CC" seriously.

"Sweet Dreams" has its good and bad. Again the sax is dominant and gives an air of "Young Americans" to the whole. It's a pity, because I'm sure that the band could have produced a far much better version in their original line-up than what is available here.

"Matinee Idyl" is also original. Again the "10CC" shadow is there. Very much in the style of "Late Last Night". Another good song.

The last two ones came from the "Mental Notes" sessions but were rejected at the time.

"Lovey Dovey" is a light and funny song. Full of strange sounds. Definitely a track to listen with headphones (as most of their debut ones). This being said, it is not a great tune. The long "The Woman Who Loves You" ranges to the good moments here as well. Fine melody, funny text, stirring piano, theme changes. A rather creative track.

At this early time of their career, their lead singer will leave the band after this recording (actually he became uncontrollable on stage). You shouldn't bother with this release. Stick to the earlier one: it is full of frenzy, craziness, originality. This one is weaker. No wonder that it didn't draw the attention of European audiences.

Three stars.

Report this review (#179528)
Posted Wednesday, August 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars A frustrating album to listen to and to review, 'Second Thoughts' represents a serious misstep in SPLIT ENZ's career. I wish they'd had such thoughts about issuing this record.

Problem is, it takes some of the less worthy tracks from their early antipodean singles, combines them with tracks re-recorded from their wonderful debut album and adds three new songs to make what was supposed to be their northern hemisphere breakthrough album. The band is undoubtedly talented, but the music is lightweight and steered in the direction of sales. The opening track is sub-standard pop, and the first of the remade tracks, 'Walking Down a Road' is a ghastly reinterpretation of the original. To complete their transformation to art-rock band the guitars are replaced by sax. Ick. 'Titus' is just dreadful: go listen to the original on 'Mental Notes' and ask yourself why they worked so hard to make the song so much worse. And so on. The excellent 'Stranger than Fiction' is mutilated by the re-recording, losing any impact it once had in this shambolic reinterpretation. The record sounds like an unenthusiastic SPLIT ENZ tribute band.

Thing is, had we not heard the originals, this would have been a perfectly acceptable, if underwhelming, album. But we did hear the originals, and none of these are improvements. This album does not represent the band's ability. Despite all this, the album was named by Sounds magazine as best debut album for 1976. Shame the mag didn't hear the original 'Mental Notes'.

Report this review (#181285)
Posted Monday, September 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
2 stars I picked up Split Enz's 'Second Thoughts' second hand and I am glad I did not not pay full price as it really is a lackluster effort. There is very little to recommend this apart from about four tracks that stand out above the rest of the mediocrity on offer here. The four tracks of note are Late Last Night, Walking Down a Road, Stranger Than Fiction and The Woman Who Loves You. All of these tracks are colourful, whimsical renditions of early Enz at its best. It is difficult to compare the brilliance, polish and precise rhythmic radio friendly sound of later Enz to these early efforts, but it is nonetheless an intriguing excursion into how this band developed from zany, unimbellished, brash prog to the crystal vocals and echoing synth of 'I Got You', 'Poor Boy' or '6 Months in a Leaky Boat' that are so familiar to Australian and New Zealand airwaves. However, Second Thoughts is not a complete waste.

The lyrics are questionable but suit the off kilter music admirably. For instance lyrics from Stranger then Fiction include:

And even her friend the hippyman With his tarot cards to play Drowning in his sea of words Why he never has much to say And I've seen him standing by the river Singing to the birds Just like the mystic says Be careful of what you say Talking to himself he needs no one To help him on his way At nights I've heard him screaming Through the candle flame Oh please don't leave me alone Please don't leave me alone

The guitar work is adequate enough as well as Tim's vocals but of course all that sound changes with the introduction of new members on the next albums, namely Neil Finn, so this album has become somewhat of a curiosity.

The costumes and makeup too disappeared over the years. I was fortunate enough to see these early stage costumes on this album cover at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney some years back. They were startling and suited the ambience and mood of the music. Time for a change features some great piano and contrasts to the rest of the album but it is the full band material that fulfills the best moments on the album. When they all strike up, the sound is incredible.

The band did improve on their next album and hit the charts to become one of the most prolific Oz/NZ artists. Overall, I recommend you grab this from a bargain bin and enjoy Split Enz in their early incarnation - but of course do not hesitate to get 'True Colours', 'Corroborree' and 'Time and Tide' for quintessential Split Enz.

Report this review (#215069)
Posted Monday, May 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars (4.5 stars) Second Thoughts (released as Mental Notes in the UK, Canada and US) is a unique collection of highly inspired, idiosyncratic, and painstakingly-crafted songs from Split Enz's so-called progressive rock period, evidently destined to be forever under-appreciated. As half of the tracks are in fact reworked versions of Split Enz's first album, the Australasian 'Mental Notes', this second release is often compared to the first, and opinions are divided on which versions of the songs are superior. The original Mental Notes is undoubtedly a creative high point for the band, and with its more extensive use of electric guitar, mellotron and symphonic arrangements, it is arguably more representative of the progressive rock tradition; on the other hand, Second Thoughts, which replaces some of the guitar and mellotron parts by brass instruments and the violin, has superior production values (it was produced by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera), and greater integration of vaudevillian, jazz and pop elements (already hinting at the Split Enz's future directions). Considering Second Thoughts' more vibrant and defined sound, and the fact that it also includes the gems, 'Late Last Night' and 'The Woman Who Loves You', it is in my view (and others strongly disagree) the better of the two albums. Be that as it may, it is certain that the album's unusual mix of musical styles, abrupt changes in rhythms and melody, and eccentric theatrics will always be unfathomable to many listeners, including prog fans. Yet, the sheer originality and diversity of the material is really quite exceptional (assuming Second Thoughts is considered in its own right and not compared to Mental Notes) and for this, the album deserves true praise and recognition. Indeed, from the complex, musical structure of the mysterious 7-minute 'Stranger Than Fiction', to the commanding opening and eclectic musical arrangements of 'Walking Down a Road', to the infectious melody and keenly romantic lyrics of 'Late Last Night', passing by the darker piano-based composition and brooding lyrics of 'Time for a Change', changing two thirds of the way into a powerful electric guitar-led instrumental, the upbeat folk/vaudevillian/pop of the bright 'Matinee Idyll' and amusing 'Lovey Duvey', the strange humour, piano and spoon solos of 'The Woman Who Loves You', which further incorporates music hall/vaudeville influences, not to mention the gentle folk-rock and neo-classicism of 'Titus', and touching despair of 'Sweet Dreams', each track has a uniquely endearing quality to it. Once discovered, the album as a whole offers a layered landscape of original musical arrangements, intriguing sounds, evocative melodies, and passionately sung and composed lyrics.

Released towards the end of 1976 around the eve of the punk explosion in the UK, not fitting within any musical genre of any time, it is not surprising that Split Enz's Second Thoughts was largely ignored, though it helped to initiate, albeit in a minor way, the first cult following of the band outside of Australia and New Zealand. With the subsequent departure of co-leader Phil Judd, Split Enz gradually moved towards a more pop-oriented, yet still idiosyncratic direction, but it would still take some years before the band would head in a more commercial direction. Split Enz's later work is of course more well known and impressive as well (though still generally under-appreciated), but they never quite recaptured the bold originality of this earlier period...except perhaps in a very different way in 1982's excellent Time and Tide.

Report this review (#699061)
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 | Review Permalink

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