Number 618 - Split Enz
"I See Red"
By the end of 1974, their following in New Zealand was strong and dedicated, but the chances of further progress there were obviously limited — the only logical place to go was Australia. In March 1975, the band issued its third single, "No Bother To Me", on the independent White Cloud label, and a few weeks later, Split Enz left for Sydney. The initial response from Australian audiences was mixed, and their music and image was at first simply too "out there" for many Australians.
At the time, Skyhooks and Hush were probably Australia's most overtly theatrical rock bands, and the influence of the "glam" period could also be seen in acts like Hush, who used costumes and makeup. Even Sherbet and AC/DC had briefly toyed with glam rock stylings, but they had dropped the idea before long. Split Enz were in a league of their own however, and most Australian audiences had seen nothing like them before. They got a frosty reception in Sydney, although they had a slightly warmer welcome in Melbourne, where local bands and other performing groups had more of a history of blending experimental and theatrical elements with rock music. It was around about this time that all members of the band except Phil adopted the use of their middle names.
The association with Mushroom was fortuitous. The company had struggled to survive for its first few years but had recently hit the big time with the record-breaking Living In The Seventies album by Skyhooks and the company was now on their way to being a major player. Mushroom's staff were young, keen, aggressive and willing to take risks — exactly the kind of company Split Enz needed. Although he is often criticised (with some justification) for the treatment of other artists on the Mushroom roster, it is to Gudinski's credit that he stuck by the Enz through thick and thin, and in the long run his faith in them was richly rewarded.
In two weeks during May/June 1975 they recorded their debut album Mental Notes at Festival's Studio 24 in Sydney. It was produced by David Russell, who was also their tour manager in 1975 – 76. Russell had been the bass player with legendary NZ rockers Ray Columbus (1962 – 65), and went on to play with Ray Brown (1966) and Max Merritt & The Meteors (1971 – 74). The engineer was Festival staffer Richard Batchens, whose credits include The Cleves, Lobby Loyde, Chain, Blackfeather and Sherbet. The Enz were reportedly unhappy with the result at the time, and Tim still regards the album as "deeply flawed" although he acknowledges that time has revealed its unique qualities.
It was a moderate success on its release in July, selling a respectable 12,000 copies in Australia, reaching #35 on the album chart for one week, and peaking at #7 in New Zealand. It was also a critical breakthrough and along with a handful of other '70s Australian classics, like The Dingoes' debut LP and Madder Lake's Stillpoint, it remains one of the most original and accomplished Australasian debut albums of the period.
Much of the material derived from Tim and Phil's fascination with the work of the renowned English writer and artist Mervyn Peake — notably Spellbound, the epic track "Stranger Than Fiction" (their concert centrepiece) and "Titus", named after the hero of Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.
Labels: Split Enz Part 2