The first ENZSO album sold like hot-cakes to thirty five year old yuppies, so it’s hardly surprising that a sequel followed a couple of years later. Rayner’s learned from the experience of the first album, and as a result the sequel has richer orchestration, with brass and woodwinds playing interesting lines rather than the piano and strings approach of the first record. It’s also kept to a more manageable length.
There are still plenty of hits like ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’, ‘Shark Attack’ and ‘History Never Repeats’ to go around, while it digs up more early gems like ‘Maybe’ and ‘Semi-Detached’. Both Finns were unavailable due to solo commitments, so Rayner was forced to recruit a bunch of New Zealand b-grade celebrities like Jon Stevens and Boh Runga to complement Dobbyn and Hunt, who reprise their roles from the earlier album. Opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is burdened with ‘Bon Voyage’, one of the most generic songs in the entire Split Enz catalogue.
Again, it’s the early songs that lend themselves best to orchestration. Dobbyn’s swaggering take of ‘Maybe’ is in the spirit of the original, naively throwing out lines like ‘I’m just a country boy, can’t you see that I’m still green.’ Margaret Urlich does a great job on obscure b-side ‘Semi-Detached’, originally released in 1979; it’s one of Tim Finn’s best compositions, originating on the Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton tapes that were later watered down to create Frenzy. The instrumental takes on ‘Pioneer’, ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’ and ‘Frenzy’ are also entertaining enough.
It’s quite an accomplishment that this sequel measures up to the original despite the absence of the Finn brothers; Rayner definitely has an aptitude for orchestration, but it would be much more interesting to hear an orchestrated version of Mental Notes.