This is the studio pop of WettonManzanera crossed with the guitarist’s Cuban past. Southern Cross is a rich-sounding record, elevated by the nearly full-time collaboration of Tim Finn as lyricist and vocalist. It’s also a serious record: “Dr. Fidel,” “A Million Reasons Why,” “Rich And Poor.” They sing of class distinctions, dictators, unscrupulous doctors. I have to imagine that the lyrics on songs like “Venceremos” better reflect the feelings of Messr. Manzanera. That or Tim Finn was reading The Motorcycle Diaries that week. Finn is actually only one of the featured vocalists, Gary Dyson being the other. Dyson has a voice suited to the adult pop market, more flexible than Finn’s sometimes high-pitched pipes. Personally, I think Finn could have done great things with “The Great Leveller,” and maybe he’ll resurrect it for his solo career some day. Southern Cross is a very smart and professional pop record, if more political than most. However, I don’t know where the market is for it. Roxy Music fans would need to exhaust all of their original works plus everything by Bryan Ferry, the first two proper Brian Eno albums and maybe Diamond Head before arriving at Southern Cross. Tim Finn fans don’t lack suitable side avenues either: Split Enz, Crowded House. As for Phil Manzanera fans, I have to wonder how many exist outside of the Roxy axis. I can imagine maybe Latin Roxy fans aligning with Manzanera, but the weirdos went with Eno while the pretty boys and girls belong to Bryan. I’ve picked up a few of his efforts out of curious habit and Southern Cross stands as tall as any of them. It’s south and to the left of my usual tastes, but we all have to leave our little island sometimes.
The enz of one chapter and the beginning of another? Perhaps Escapade is better seen as a sequel; like most sequels, less compelling than the original but worthwhile if you have a lot of skin invested in the story of Split Enz. That band was known for subversive pop, and there’s no denying that Tim Finn on his own is less sinister in intent. A horn section, melodies that sound safe and familiar, his first adventure from the band turns out to be more of a vacation. There are several tracks that Enz fans will take interest in, none moreso than “Not For Nothing.” That track is exactly what you’d expect from the author of so many fine Enz cuts, but most fall short of the bar set by that band. Having professed an affection for Jon Anderson’s “Don’t Forget (Nostalgia),” I can’t fault “Fraction Too Much Friction” for the same foibles, nor can I knock “Staring At The Embers” or “In A Minor Key.” But much of Escapade is a foray into the adult pop market: “Wait And See,” “Below The Belt,” “Through The Years.” It’s tempting to compare this to Conflicting Emotions (the next Enz album), in which case the conflict of which to purchase is minimal: nothing on Escapade satisfies that sublime Split Enz fix as well as “Message To My Girl” or “The Devil You Know.” In its defense, I’ve only listened to Escapade twice (as Grandpa Simpson would say, “on two non-consecutive occasions”). Trouser Press got a lump in their throat over “Not For Nothing,” and I might too in time (as the allergy season doesn’t show any signs of abating). I’ve also read where some of these were leftovers from the Enz (“Growing Pains” and “I Only Want To Know” would seem to fit that bill). Just something to chew on in consideration of Escapade. Obviously, I expected more, but I can see where listening to this over and over might win a person over. If you go into this Escapade with the door open for a longer commitment, it could be the start of a fulfilling relationship.