40 Years Ago: Split Enz Go Global with ‘Second Thoughts’
Released in August 1976, the title of Split Enz's sophomore effort, Second Thoughts, is quite literal: The New Zealand band's first internationally released LP features different versions of songs which first appeared on the group's debut, Mental Notes.
This reinvention was guided by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, who produced Second Thoughts. In an archival interview included in part 3 of the Enzology podcast, frontman Tim Finn said Manzanera was going to "re-do and improve" Split Enz's debut. "We're doing Mental Notes again, but change a couple of the tracks, and it'll be a better album overall from the first Mental Notes."
For studio sessions, the band relocated to London. (In fact, Radio New Zealand, which produced Enzology, reveals the nugget that the band lived in Kings Road, "opposite Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s 'SEX shop.") As it turns out, a total record revamp didn't quite happen. Split Enz ended up re-recording four songs—"Walking Down a Road," "Stranger Than Fiction, "Time for a Change" and "Titus"—from the LP, and doing new versions of a pair of songs from the Mental Notes era ("Lovey Dovey," "The Woman Who Loves You"). Another tune, "Matinee Idyll" was itself a re-do of an older song called "129."
During Enzology, the band members admitted they should've soldiered forward and worked on new material instead of trying to perfect older songs, with Finn saying it was "pretty anal of us to have done that…it was a retrogressive thing to do. We should've moved on."
Keyboardist Eddie Rayner, however, has a more positive recollection. "I think it's a more professional recording and a more professional performance by the band. By the end, we'd honed our arrangements and our sounds a bit better. We were able to leave off the songs we didn't want on the record, and make it into potentially a better record. I don't know whether it is or not."
The Second Thoughts version of the mandolin-driven "Titus," a song presaging the Go-Betweens' pop-rock, is dramatically different for the better: Its slightly haywire vocals were smoothed over, and a pastoral trumpet replaced the original's tinny-sounding synth. The Brian Eno-influenced "Walking Down a Road," which opened Mental Notes, also sounds crisper, courtesy of more prominent piano and saxophone parts.
"an aural expression of the abstract, asymmetric, multi-coloured imagery which comes with it. Picture eccentric zany behaviour with clothing that is pastel, neon, or checkerboard black and white, topped with outlandish hairdos. The music features lopsided rhythms, synthesized bleeps and boings, 'polka-dot percussion,' fantasia, autonomy, falsetto, wacky imagery, frolic and whimsy, and a bold attitude."
But Second Thoughts' main influences are prog, glam and art rock—not just Roxy Music (unsurprisingly), but Brian Eno's mid-'70s solo albums, Peter Gabriel and early '70s David Bowie. (These influences extended to the band's aesthetic, which often incorporated flamboyant costumes and theatrical makeup.) The vibe of "Late Last Night" is a cross between a tropical vacation and a hotel lounge cabaret act, while the similarly piano-twirled "Lovey Dovey" boasts dramatic, free-swinging rhythms and playful sax parts. The single "Matinee Idyll," meanwhile, is a sophisticated boogie-woogie recalling Elton John and Wings—a signal of Split Enz's pop potential.
The group toured the U.K. with Jack the Lad in 1976, and ended up doing its first gigs in the U.S. in 1977. The band was greeted with bemusement in America, its members recalled in Enzology: "There was a love-hate sort of thing going on. Some people just couldn't handle it. And others thought, 'Fantastic!'"
In the aftermath of Second Thoughts, Split Enz had a lineup shakeup. Vocalist/songwriter Phil Judd left the band—unsurprising, going by the frustration he expressed on Enzology about indifference to new material he was writing—while Finn's younger brother, Neil Finn, joined the group. Split Enz's sound would evolve dramatically with the latter's songwriting influence, away from Second Thoughts' deliberate strangeness.
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