[Review] Split Enz: Frenzy (1979)

Done clowning around, the band releases their first seriously great album.

Kronomyth 4.0: This frenzy always satisfies.

The modern, edgy sound of the Split Enz we all know and love emerges on Frenzy. The album is otherwise notable for featuring the band out of costume, a decision that Tim Finn has attributed to the band letting the music speak for itself. As such, Frenzy speaks volumes for the future, which would arrive soon enough on True Colours. Previous albums had a few songs that stuck out (e.g., “Charlie,” “Maybe”), but a good half of Frenzy sticks around in your head for the long haul.

Produced by Mallory Earl (heretofore known mostly for producing Hot Tuna), the original Australian release features thirteen tracks that work as standalone pop songs, albeit quirky ones. The crisp electric guitar and electronic keyboards are more in line with the burgeoning new wave field than progressive/art rock. Songs like Mind Over Matter and I See Red (added shortly after the album’s initial release) actually rock, which is something that earlier Split Enz albums didn’t do. Toss in a few of Tim Finn’s knee-buckling ballads (Stuff and Nonsense, The Roughest Toughest Game in the World) and one of those sweet, swell Neil Finn songs (Give It A Whirl) and you’ve got the kind of album to keep you company during those dull desert island days.

Despite being their best album to date, Frenzy didn’t exactly live up to its name. It charted respectably down under but didn’t earn a broader international release until it was remixed and resequenced in 1981. That one burned down, fell over, and sank into the swamp, metaphorically (and montypythonically) speaking. In fact, A&M included copies of Frenzy for free with the purchase of Time and Tide in the UK. Hard to figure, since the 1981 remix is even better as it removes two of the less interesting tracks (Abu Dhabi, Famous People) in favor of the in-all-ways-wonderful Semi-Detached, Nigel Griggs’ ecstatic Livin’ It Up (which sounds like it stepped off of XTC’s second album) and a nice pair from Neil.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see a release that reconciles the two versions. The songs certainly warrant the effort. You can find some of these songs today on The Rootin Tootin Luton Tapes, released in 2007. Honestly, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the mixes (except for the title track), and I suppose you could live without hearing “The Roughest Toughest Game in the World” (although I’m not sure it would be a life worth living), so if you have to choose, I’d pick the 1981 elpee version over the original Australian version, which I believe is the only version issued on compact disc.

Original elpee version

A1. I See Red (Tim Finn) (3:15)
A2. Give It A Whirl (Tim Finn/Neil Finn) (2:49)
A3. Master Plan (Tim Finn) (3:07)
A4. Famous People (Tim Finn) (2:51)
A5. Hermit McDermitt (Tim Finn) (4:07)
A6. Stuff and Nonsense (Tim Finn) (4:22)
A7. Marooned (Eddie Rayner) (2:50)
B1. Frenzy (Tim Finn/Eddie Rayner)
B2. The Roughest Toughest Game in the World (Tim Finn)
B3. She Got Body She Got Soul (Tim Finn)
B4. Betty (Tim Finn)
B5. Abu Dhabi (Tim Finn/Eddie Rayner)
B6. Mind Over Matter (Tim Finn/Neil Finn)

All songs arranged by Split Enz.

Re-mixed elpee version (1981)
A1. I See Red (Tim Finn) (3:15)
A2. Give It A Whirl (Tim Finn/Neil Finn) (2:52)
A3. Master Plan (Tim Finn) (3:00)
A4. Betty (Tim Finn) (4:42)
A5. Frenzy (Tim Finn/Eddie Rayner) (2:15)
A6. Stuff and Nonsense (Tim Finn) (4:30)
A7. Marooned (Eddie Rayner) (2:15)
B1. Hermit McDermitt (Tim Finn) (4:19)
B2. Holy Smoke (Neil Finn) (3:15)
B3. Semi-Detached (Tim Finn) (5:05)
B4. Carried Away (Neil Finn) (4:34)
B5. She Got Body (Tim Finn) (2:55)
B6. Mind Over Matter (Tim Finn/Neil Finn) (2:52)
B7. Livin’ It Up (Nigel Griggs) (1:15)

The Players

Noel Crombie (percussion, vocals), Neil Finn (guitar, vocals), Tim Finn (vocals, acoustic guitar, piano), Malcolm Green (drums, vocals), Nigel Griggs (bass, vocals), Eddie Rayner (piano, keyboards, vocals). Original album produced by Mallory Earl; engineered by Mallory Earl and Hugh Padgham. Re-mixed album features original tracks A2-A7 plus remixed tracks A1 engineered and co-produced by David Tickle and B1-B7 produced by Split Enz and co-produced and engineered by Dave Cook. (The 1981 Canadian elpee credits production on “She Got Body” to Split Enz and Mallory Earl.)

The Pictures

Cover painting and design by Raewyn Turner.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on February 19, 1979 in Australia (Mushroom, L-36768). Re-released on elpee and cassette on March 1, 1979 in Australia (Mushroom, L/C 36921) with gatefold cover and “I See Red” added.

  1. Re-released on remixed elpee and cassette in 1981 in the UK (A&M, AMLK 63153), the US (A&M, SP/CS-3153), Canada (A&M, SP-69827) and the Netherlands (A&M, AMLE 63153) with lyrics innersleeve and different tracks.
  2. Re-packaged as free album with Time and Tide in 1981 in the UK (A&M, AMLH 64894/F).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Australia (Mushroom, MUSH32334.2).

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