Split Enz Album Reviews

Formed by a group of Auckland students in 1972, Split Enz are an iconic New Zealand band. With a distinctive visual image – percussionist Noel Crombie designed their costumes and album covers – their career had two distinct phases.

In the first iterations, Split Enz were an arty band. Led by Phil Judd and Tim Finn, they played eccentric songs and wore colorful costumes, with their music sounding similar to contemporary English bands like Genesis and Roxy Music, but made distinct by the group’s New Zealand origins and Judd’s disturbing persona. Early albums, particularly 1975 debut album Mental Notes, stand up as among the band’s best, while the collection of early singles, The Beginning of the Enz, is an overlooked gem.

In 1977, Judd and original bass player Mike Chunn left the band. Judd was replaced by teenager Neil Finn, and the group’s longest serving lineup of the Finn brothers, an English rhythm section, Crombie, and musical lynch-pin, keyboardist Eddie Rayner took shape. The new lineup, coupled with the changes in the musical landscape in the late 1970s, saw the band move towards more straightforward, Beatles influenced, pop.

1979’s Frenzy was badly produced and made little impact, but the single ‘I See Red’ was a breakthrough. 1980’s True Colours, with Neil Finn’s ‘I Got You’, was a big hit in New Zealand and Australia, while 1981’s Waiata and 1982’s Time and Tide continued the success. Tim Finn launched his solo career with 1983’s Escapade, and left Split Enz. After one album without his older brother, Neil Finn opted to break up the band, and started Crowded House with newly recruited Enz drummer Paul Hester.

Because of the lineup changes and stylistic shifts, Split Enz’s catalogue is uneven – some of their albums feel uncertain and transitional. If you’re new to the band, the 2CD compilation Spellbound is an excellent option, as it provides an overview of their carer and cherry-picks the highlights from weaker albums like Frenzy and Conflicting Emotions.

I’ve covered Neil Finn’s Crowded House, but I’m woefully unfamiliar with Judd’s post-Enz albums with The Swingers and Schnell Fenster.

Ten Favourite Split Enz Songs

Sweet Dreams
Message To My Girl
Late Last Night
Six Months In A Leaky Boat
Time For A Change
Dirty Creature
Take A Walk
Another Great Divide
Spellbound
History Never Repeats