ENZSO was the brainchild of Eddie Rayner, who arranged songs from Split Enz’s catalogue with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the National Youth Choir. Most of the early 1980’s Enz line-up is involved; Rayner plays piano, the Finns sing most of the lead vocals, along with Dave Dobbyn and Annie Crummer, while Noel Crombie makes a cameo appearance on spoons in ‘Strait Old Line’. ENZSO covers every Split Enz album over its twelve songs, ranging from the art-rock of 1975’s debut Mental Notes to the straightforward pop of 1984’s swansong See Ya’ Round.
ENZSO is not something that I’d voluntarily purchase; I won it in a radio contest. While Rayner claims in the liner notes that some of the songs were ‘begging for an orchestral arrangement’, I’d still rather listen to the original versions in most cases; the synth bleeps of ‘Poor Boy’ are more appropriate than the string backing on this record to my ears, and the orchestral arrangements work best on the early, ambitious material. Poet Sam Hunt is effective fronting ‘Under The Wheel’, while the multi-part structure of ‘Stranger Than Fiction’/’Time For A Change’ is also better suited to the orchestral format than the more pop-oriented material.
There are stretches where ENZSO is essentially a bunch of pop songs slowed down and drawn out to six minutes, slathered with orchestration and fronted by singers who don’t have the technical faculty to sing with an orchestra. ENZSO draws attention to some overlooked material; the gorgeous ballad ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ gained profile after being featured here, while ‘Message To My Girl’ is a great song even in this drawn out form.
ENZSO has some merit, but I find it a struggle to sit through seventy minutes of it.