In honour of NZ Music Month, Gary Steel climbs into the crumbling catacombs of his back catalogue, and disinters a different story Every Day In May (EDIM). Today’s piece is my September 16, 1980 review of the Split Enz album, True Colours, published in the Evening Post.
Note: It seemed to me back then that anyone who loved NZ music was rooting for “the Enz”, knowing that they were as close as we’d ever got to conquering the world stage, but also worried that everything they had worked towards would fall apart. It was by no means a given that the group would recover from the loss of Phil Judd, or that becoming a leaner, more pop-oriented group, they would necessarily win over the international punters. There was no ‘Kiwi rock royalty’ and although the Enz were homecoming heroes to a small contingent of ardent fans, even as our biggest band they would have been fighting to get any TV time. Well, here’s what I wrote about it way back then. Please excuse my naivety, I was but a pup. [And I’ve written a small book’s worth of Enz-related material during the ‘80s, so if anyone wants to see more of it…]
Split Enz Tighten Up To Silence ‘Knockers’
THOSE WHO WOULD have Split Enz as a minor-league intellectual ex-art school band are set to swallow their hasty, ill-considered words, in double time.
For True Colours (Polygram), the new LP, shows such sacrilegious verbiage vendors that here stands a band not about to give in to the average Kiwi’s anti-New Zealand music apathy.
From the first to the last note, the Enz give us what we want in top-league style.
True Colours was recorded in Melbourne with producer David Tickle at the helm, and represents the turning over of yet another fresh green leaf. A brash, commercial sound, previously partially exploited on ‘I See Red’, is adopted. The songs are essentially infectiously simple (simply infectious) with complex embellishments.
This, the sixth Enz LP disc sees two major changes. One: Split Enz for the first time really sounds like a tight unit – a real group. Two: True Colours is the first Enz LP produced in the hard-headed 1980s fashion of Cheap Trick’s Tom Wermann.
Cheap Trick similarities don’t stop there. Both bands are overwhelmingly influenced by The Beatles. But whereas the Trick are American, and have arrived by way of Chuck Berry, Split Enz are NZ-British, arriving by way of Genesis.
Both are talented tunesmiths with flashes of brilliance, but short of genius.
The songs on True Colours are mostly interchangeable. That is not to suggest they are necessarily “samey”, but that simply the uniformity of sound, the unity of the whole package, results in a certain antipathy after long listening hours.
At the same time, every individual songs carries single potential.
‘Shark Attack’, ‘What’s The Matter With You’, ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’, and ‘Nobody Takes Me Seriously’ are all great pop songs with the power of rock (powerpop? Surely not!)
Neil Finn takes lead vocals on two tracks here, the single ‘I Got You’ and ‘Missing Person’. His voice gives a different perspective to the Enz sound.
‘I Hope I Never’ is the obligatory soft mushy, Manilow-like ballad. I like it, against my better instincts. Tim Finn here sings with such aplomb that you’d hardly recognise the 1975 model against the mature 1980 version.
‘How Can I Resist Her’ sounds disappointingly trivial standing side by side with the rest of True Colours.
The biggest departure, however, ‘Double Happy’ and ‘The Choral Sea’, are both instrumentals. Keyboardist Eddie Raynor is here tapping the same lucrative vein as Gary Numan: synthesiser used up-front in a commercial context. Both these pieces are nagging, buzzsawing, unforgettable delights.
So that’s it (not in chronological order). A new sound with roots in the old Enz style – but the connections are becoming increasingly nebulous.
True Colours – better than Dream Police, and the first well-produced Enz to be both aesthetically as well as commercially (we hope) successful. GARY STEEL