Album of the Week, December 6: True Colours by Split Enz

SplitEnzTrueColoursCollege chums Tim Finn and Phil Judd formed the Split Ends at Auckland University with a collection of art school acquaintances. The group developed an all acoustic sound with complex, neo-classical structures; Finn and Judd wrote most of the songs. Lineup changes almost folded the group, but they decided to recruit new members and go electric. They purchased a Mellotron and convinced talented keyboard player Eddie Rayner to join. The group moved to Australia, adopting the NZ that represented their homeland as part of their new name. Quirky and talented, Split Enz released Mental Notes, then re-recorded it in London as Second Thoughts. Judd and co-founder Mike Chunn quit the band, leaving Finn and Rayner with percussionists Malcolm Green and Noel Crombie. Tim convinced his younger brother, Neil, to join the band on guitar and vocals, and bassist Nigel Griggs rounded out the classic lineup. After two more critically acclaimed albums, the band had refined a prog-pop sound. As Neil Finn came into his own, the group recorded their make-or-break fifth album, the magnificent True Colours.

Title True Colours
Act Split Enz
Label Chrysalis Release Date June 25, 1980
Producer David Tickle
U.S. Chart  #40 U.K. Chart  #42
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. I Got You [#53]
  2. Shark Attack
  3. What’s the Matter With You?
  4. Double Happy
  5. I Wouldn’t Dream of It
  6. I Hope I Never
  7. Nobody Takes Me Seriously
  8. Missing Person
  9. Poor Boy
  10. How Can I Resist Her
  11. The Choral Sea

Neil Finn’s first major composition — destined to be the Enz’ first Australian #1 single — opens the album on a powerful note. He wrote I Got You while playing a traveling game with his brother, each tossing the other words or phrases to use as the basis of a song. He intended to rewrite the “corny” chorus, but it worked so well at the first session that he left it intact. A classic slice of edgy pop with a view of romance that would become a Neil Finn staple, it’s one of the finest songs to come from his pen and the band’s catalog.

Tim’s Shark Attack comes next, an urgent burst of music with an appropriately desperate vocal. It sounds like the elder Finn is channeling all the frustrations of the band’s early years into one magnificent blast. Neil shows off his edgier side with What’s the Matter With You? a baffled rebuke of a fickle friend. Rayner shows off his inventive chops on the instrumental Double Happy, a fun bit of music that would be filler in less capable hands. Instead, it forms a charming bridge between the post-glam Enz and their emergence as a refined pop powerhouse.

That same energy bubbles beneath Tim’s I Wouldn’t Dream of It, a fun declaration of dedication. It features more magical keyboard work and a steadily intensifying vocal  that shows Tim’s skills. Underscoring that point, he provides the aching ballad I Hope I Never with a soaring falsetto over a sorrowful piano figure. Pulling back right at the edge of overwrought, it’s a magnificent example of a band in control of their material.

Tim’s Nobody Takes Me Seriously is a pleasant bit of poor-little-me with a new wave energy that showcases the talents of the rhythm section. Neil explores sadder territory in a similar vein in his pop downer Missing Person. It’s a nice pair that show off the brothers’ competing talents.

Tim turns in his finest moment with Poor Boy, a love song with a twist. Over shimmering pop groove, he laments his infatuation with a lover so far away they will never meet. It’s perfectly constructed, an ethereal gem of a song. How Can I Resist Her? is cut from similar cloth to I Got You, a celebration of romance. Things wrap up with another instrumental, a strange pulsing number called The Choral Sea put together by the whole band. It’s an interesting coda, showing off the  tight unit the band had become.

True Colours made Split Enz into Antipodean superstars. Showing off their musical chops, diverse sounds, and refined pop mastery, the album brought the band back from the brink of breakup. It heralded a string of wonderful albums that came close to the same magic. Lineup changes and Tim’s departure for a solo career kept them from achieving the same level of consistency, but the energy found on this disc launched an enviable run of great pop music.

FURTHER LISTENING: Of the band’s earlier albums, the strongest is Dizrythmia, Neil’s first with the group. It refines the glam inclinations and offers some great songs. The three discs that follow True Colours are all decent. Waiata (also known as Coroboree) is the best, suffering only by comparison its predecessor. Time and Tide has strong highs but bogs down in places; Conflicting Emotions features some of Neil’s strongest work but definitely suffers from Tim’s impending departure.

His solo career includes a number of fine albums, the finest of which is the elegant Big Canoe. Neil went on to international success in Crowded House and on his own. Two solid compilations capture the Enz nicely. For casual fans most interested in the later material History Never Repeats is a flawless collection. The two disc Spellbound provides a more comprehensive overview.

About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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