Graham Reid | | 3 min read
For some reason Elsewhere has two copies of this past-their-best Split Enz album on its shelves, which doubled its chances of it appearing at random for the purposes of this on-going column.
Conflicting Emotions followed their enormously successful True Colours which came in vibrant cover art, the somewhat lesser and darker Waiata (the designer said Noel Crombie's cover art “was the colour of shit”) and the much improved Time And Tide.
But by Conflicting Emotions that unevenness was taking its toll. Tim Finn had launched a successful solo career with his album Escapade (which featured the hit Fraction Too Much Friction) and increasingly Neil Finn was taking the songwriting helm for the Enz (six of the 10 on this album by him).
The hits collection which preceded Conflicting Emotions (Enz of an Era) doubtless buoyed the coffers and certainly Neil's Strait Old Line and Message to My Girl on the album carried them back to their fan base comfortably.
But the seams were starting to pull apart and they were uncertain of where they might be headed.
“When we came back together,” Neil told Rolling Stone's Peter Lawrence in Melbourne at the time, “we were a little bit confused about what direction we were going in because we weren't communicating as we normally do.”
Tim's contribution of Bon Voyage, the final song on the album, sounds exactly like the farewell note it seems to be and soon enough he was gone, not there for the final Enz album See Ya Round of the following year.
Listened to at this distance the album is not without merit: Neil's Strait Old Line is a chipper if slight piece of pop which seems like a message to my brother (“The road of ambition is a casualty trail”) and Message to My Girl is a lovely song to his wife, a typically understated melody which still has his songwriting fingerprint all over it.
And the man who opened a Crowded House album with a swipe at Americans and their consumer culture (Chocolate Cake on Woodface) gets away an early nasty salvo of personal discontent on the bruising and uncompromising Bullet Brain and Cactus Head. It sounds aimed at either the conflict between the band's management and Mushroom head honcho Michael Gudinski or – on a more global scale – the standoff between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Either way it revealed an acerbic and venomous side of Finn the Younger.
With Eddie Rayner adopting the new fangled technology of the synthesizer and the use of drum machines (seemingly at Tim's insistence although Neil was keen to explore the possibilities), the album is locked in the sound of its era (Tim's Working Up An Appetite).
Neil's wordiness on Our Day (nice sentiment about impending fatherhood delivered with considerable anxiety) rather sinks it and although No Mischief has a steady synth/beat-driven groove along the lines of Heaven 17 it too is hide-bound by its political allusions.
The trio of Tim songs at the end are alternately urgent and anxious (I Wake Up Every Night), annoying (Conflicting Emotions) and weary (Bon Voyage).
The critical and fan consensus of Conflicting Emotions was that it wasn't up to much and the band were obviously rudderless: Tim was moving elsewhere so probably not wanting to waste his better songs on the band; Neil was left to fill the gap with a pregnant wife and various members with their own issues; Noel Crombie's role as drummer was uncertain because Tim had brought in drummer Ricky Fataar; Rayner was keen to explore the new technology although some of the clinical results undermined the more sensitive material . . .
Ironically for a band which was faltering, some interest alighted on the fact that long estranged founder Phil Judd was back to paint the front cover image.
Not quite enough to salvage the album though.
Incidentally one of the two copies I have comes with a limited edition New Zealand-only 12'' single of Neil's Kia Kaka and Tim's Parasite; the former using the motto of the Finn's old school Te Awamutu College.
They didn't seem much of an inducement: my copy has a sticker on it which reads “Only $10.99 The EMI Price Shop”.
Actually the album's title -- even more than that sticker -- told you all you needed to know about this almost-the-end of the Enz album.
You can hear this album at Spotify here
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here