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Split Enz - Frenzy CD (album) cover

FRENZY

Split Enz

 

Crossover Prog

2.80 | 23 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I've been on a sort of "catch up" binge as of late, trying to sample at least one album by some of the groups and artists considered to be progressive (in one way or another) that I didn't get around to hearing in my younger days. Gotta say it's been a hit-or-miss endeavor. In most cases they didn't sound exactly like I thought they would and it wasn't always a wholly satisfactory experience, either. The ones that I've found to be most worthwhile were the ones who hailed from off-the- beaten-path areas of the planet where they were less likely to be tempted to simply pantomime what was trendy in the American or European markets at the time. I think that's what made Bjork's eclectic brand of music intriguing to my ears and I'm pretty sure that's what made this record by the New Zealand homeboys in Split Enz a pleasant though somewhat inconsistent listen. Another factor that I'm very aware of is that often the musical entities labeled as crossover or prog-related are here because they went through a phase in their career that qualified them as such but it doesn't mean that they stayed in a progressive mode. So when I pick a disc at random (as is my wont to do) I realize that it may or may not be representative of their more adventurous work that landed them a spot in Progland. Can't help it, though, it's the way I do my investigative business. In the case of these southern hemisphere inhabitants, their 1979 release, "Frenzy," got the luck of the draw.

They opened with "I See Red," a raucous song with a decidedly New Wave flavor bolstered by the obligatory thin Farfisa organ that bops and dances through the track. While I was hoping for something a little more profound I have to admit that Eddie Rayner's too-brief piano solo was exhilarating. The tune wasn't a big turn off but it did suffer from being very dated. But, fortunately, they valued variety in their craftsmanship so the next cut, "Give it a Whirl," was a totally different marsupial. Its spacious depth of field captured my interest from the get go and the fact that it sounded like something The Move (one of my favorite proto-prog outfits) would've concocted was a huge plus. On the bouncy "Master Plan" I did note that their unorthodox approach to pop music was refreshing in that it wasn't overly formulaic aka Alan Parsons Project or downright silly like a lot of 10cc's stuff. They had a frolicsome aura all their own. The bass-heavy "Famous People" followed and all I can remark about it is that it was unremarkable. "Hermit McDermitt" was an odd duck of a number. Like a lot of groups that enjoyed some success in the 70s, these guys gave the impression here that they were unsure of what direction they should be going in as the decade was coming to a close. However, I admired their spunky attitude that allowed them to freely employ a Jews Harp and a rocking polka beat without shame. The title of the next tune, "Stuff and Nonsense," had me ready for some weird shenanigans but it's one of the finest cuts on the album. Delicate acoustic piano, Tim Finn's heartfelt vocals and a tactful string score accentuated by tympani and billowing cymbals established and maintained a graceful motif that's reminiscent of the early Bee Gees material. By saying that I don't mean to give the impression that it's a rip-off piece at all and besides, it's a compliment. The Brothers Gibb were quite proggy in the beginning. It's a beautiful love song that I found highly emotional and worthy of revisiting often.

"Marooned" took me somewhere else entirely. While the overall production of this album is noticeably unpolished I was repeatedly entertained by the originality contained in their compositions. They were just far enough away from the mainstream to be designated as cool. Speaking of unusual, "Frenzy" followed and it's a strange little ditty that came off like it was going to be an instrumental at first but then they ended up adding spoken word segments and a vocal chorus to it. "The Roughest Toughest Game in the World" possessed a light Supertramp (what an influence that band was!) vibe that granted it a gleaming ray of sheen but, alas, the number never located and locked into its mojo. "She Got Body She Got Soul" had a swinging shuffle groove that provided a welcome change of pace moment but its nostalgic 60s doo wop hue got old real quick. With "Betty" I found it difficult to find anything concrete to grab onto and savor. I respected their non-commercial mien but sometimes their arrangements wandered all over the place so much they never were able to settle into a solid groove. "Abu Dhabi" was a genuine treat. Drummer Malcom Green and percussionist Noel Cromble generated a rollicking rumble underneath this accordion- driven rocker that was irresistible. It was a fun ride through some imaginative streams of mayhem and I liked it mainly due to it being as incomparable to anything else as I've come across in many years. They ended with "Mind over Matter" in which Neil Finn's heavy guitar laid down a metallic foundation below Tim's convoluted melody line while full 3-part harmonies filled up the background.

The group was a major hit with their countrymen and in nearby Australia but their quirkiness never really caught on in the states and they remained basically a fringe act until they disbanded in the mid-80s. It's a pity I didn't discover them back in their heyday because I think I would've been strongly attracted to their offbeat style and their "anything goes" approach to recording. "Frenzy" isn't a great record but it does serve to remind us that rock & roll will forever be impossible to restrict to a particular way of thinking or design and this disc's uniqueness makes it stand out from the average bull in the herd. I'm sure that the members of Split Enz got a lot of advice from the record company suits about how they could become more accessible and, therefore, profitable if they'd be more conservative-minded but they chose to be none other than who and what they were. For that stubborn rebellious streak "Frenzy" earned a few more points. 3.1 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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