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Spellbound – Split Enz

Spellbound

(1997), 9/10
Split Enz are still unchallenged as New Zealand’s most significant music group, over a decade long recording career that saw them transform from mid-seventies art-rockers to early eighties new wave pop sensations. A compilation’s a pretty good option for exploring their catalogue, and this double disc, featuring excellent remastered sound quality that’s a long way above their other releases, is the best available option.

Interesting features include a remixed version of ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ that blows the Frenzy version out of the water, the previously unreleased ‘Semi-Detached’, a paranoid Tim song that’s among the best the Enz ever recorded, complete with some uncharacteristic guitar hero soloing from Neil, and ‘Another Great Divide’, an excellent early song that never made it onto a studio album. Having all their eras mixed together in one place, it’s noticeable that perhaps it’s their early work that’s most consistent and has arguably stood the test of time the best; songs like ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘Another Great Divide’ still sound lush and bouncy, even as synth dominated hits like ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Shark Attack’ are tied to their early 1980’s era.

It’s not without its problems – the sequencing is all over the place (the first disc is generally dedicated to the hits and the second to the more idiosyncratic material, but it’s confusing and a simple chronological approach may have been more satisfying), the booklet is clinically uninteresting, and there are a few surprise omissions – like ‘Hard Act To Follow’ from Waiata and ‘Spellbound’ – but it does place 39 of Split Enz’s best songs in one place, and it’s an excellent starting point. If you enjoy it, you should investigate their best albums like Mental Notes, Time and Tide, and The Beginning of the Enz.

There’s also a sixteen track Australasian compilation available, History Never Repeats, that concentrates on their early 1980’s hits – it’s an extremely coherent and enjoyable record (when I bought it in my mid-teens, I played nothing else for a couple of weeks straight), and if you want to bypass the group’s earlier work it’s a better option than this more comprehensive collection.

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