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Semi Detached by Split Enz: Great B-Sides

Frenzy Split Enz

In 1978 New Zealand art-rockers Split Enz were in crisis. The group had lost key original members like Phil Judd and Mike Chunn. Their art-rock was out of step in the late 1970s, pushed from the mainstream by punk and new-wave. The group had fired their record company and their manager, and living in England were sustained by a grant from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council in New Zealand.

The grant allowed the group to record demos in a tiny studio in Luton. Due to the cramped conditions, percussionist Noel Crombie set up his kit in the toilet, and keyboardist Eddie Rayner constantly hit lead singer Tim Finn in the head with his elbow.

The sessions were a creative rebirth for Split Enz. The group were previously an art-rock band like Roxy Music and Genesis, now they were a pop band. New members had been injected – guitarist Neil Finn and the English rhythm section of Nigel Griggs and Malcolm Green. The five day sessions were productive – due to fan demand, a 28-track set was released in 2006 as the Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes.

A song from the Luton sessions, Tim Finn’s ‘I See Red’, was re-recorded in July 1978 with producer David Tickle and became the group’s breakthrough as a pop band. In contrast the album from the Luton songs, 1979’s Frenzy, was disappointing – the album was recorded with inexperienced producer Mallory Earl and suffered from technical issues. Frenzy has been re-worked several times – Rayner remixed the album in 1981 for a North America and Europe release, and his track-list was substantially different -side two consisted of tracks from the Luton tapes.

While most of the Luton songs were new to fans, Tim Finn’s ‘Semi Detached’ had already been released. It was featured as the b-side to the 1979 non-album single ‘Things’, penned by Neil Finn and notable for the resemblance of the verse melody to Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’.

While the Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes marked Split Enz’s shift towards new-wave pop, ‘Semi Detached’ bears the musical traits of their art-rock phase. Rayner’s flowing piano backs Tim Finn’s theatrical delivery, while Neil Finn delivers an uncharacteristic guitar hero solo.

The lyrics to ‘Semi-Detached’ could be read either as a response to the group’s 1978 travails or as a portrait of mental health struggles. Split Enz’s work is often concerned with mental health – both Mike Chunn and Phil Judd left the group due to struggles. Tim Finn often hides behind a persona in Split Enz, but also released some amazingly personal songs about his own struggles; 1982’s ‘Dirty Creature’ is a brilliant metaphor for depression, while ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’ is about his nervous breakdown.

Like a lot of great b-sides, ‘Semi Detached’ has been anthologised in retrospect. It was included on the 2CD compilation Spellbound, which is a great one-stop shopping solution for a fascinating but inconsistent band.

Semi Detached Lyrics

I wanna leave here
I wanna get to hell away
My body’s frozen
And in my head the pain is here to stay
Panic seems too close for comfort, save me

I gotta get going
Before I cause an accident
A wind is blowing
The summer’s gone
And I can’t pay the rent
Debt collectors, slap-dash noisy children

CHORUS
Who’s gonna be there when the going gets rough?
Ooh I wonder
We’re semi-detached and we’ll burn like matchsticks
We’ll be wonderful, oh

I want a fire, I want a brimstone baptism
Got no illusion, friction or fusion
Time has come
In my garden cats entreat me “Spare us”

And as for people
They’re semi-detached, aren’t they?
So I can’t be sure
I think I heard a neighbour say,
“He’ll amount to nothing, he’s pathetic”

Who’s gonna be there when the going gets rough?
Ooh I wonder
Semi-detached and we’ll burn like matchsticks
We’ll be wonderful, oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Mmm mmm mmmmmmmmmmmmm

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11 thoughts on “Semi Detached by Split Enz: Great B-Sides Leave a comment

    • Yeah, I think Frenzy could have been really good with better production. Rayner’s version does sound like a good idea, combining stuff from the Luton sessions with remixed versions of the album versions. Never seen it – NZ and Australia got the original version. I used to have a tape version which was pretty dingy. It was a revelation hearing ‘Stuff and Nonsense’ on the Spellbound compilation with gorgeous acoustic guitar that wasn’t audible on the cassette.

      Liked by 1 person

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