Split Enz, Mental Notes (1975)
I was born and raised a Split Enz fan – it’s something I think of as one of the great cultural gifts my parents passed down; gave willingly to me. I still remember the night my parents went to the Napier show on the Enz With A Bang tour and I, aged eight or whatever, was really upset I couldn’t go. But not in typical tantrum way – I was actually jealous for the experience they were going to have. I remember asking them questions afterward about what songs were played, what outfits were worn and so on. It’s probably the moment they realised I was taking this music-thing a little seriously. My introduction to Mental Notes came later with the box-sets of Enz material on CD. Hearing this album some 15 years or so after it was made was mind-bending. It reminded me, passingly, of the very early Genesis that I had heard. And Pink Floyd. But it had a sound of its own. It towers now – for me – above any of the other Enz material. It’s like a giant musical theatre piece as an album, playing out as if being performed live every time. It’s an endurance event in a sense; that feeling of tension, of a series of mini-revelations never leaves me when I listen through to this album/event. It is such a proud achievement for the writing/performing careers of Tim Finn and Phil Judd and particularly the T.Finn/P.Judd co-credit. An incredible statement – and as time goes on it just shows that neither of them climbed higher than the work here. I have interviewed both Finn (see here) and Judd (see here) and both were tricky to draw out on the subject of Mental Notes; Finn especially. He seems to want to think he’s moved very far forward. He has not. Judd you can tell understands the magic and worth of Mental Notes as a thing – as a cultural artefact – and is put out for a lot of reasons. He probably feels he’s not really received the reward (financially/spiritually) that he perhaps deserves. There’s definitely no peace that he’s found with/for himself. And certainly there’s a sadness at the bridges burned. He was so unmanageable then and just getting through his life was an ordeal. The struggle to just be himself – which informed so much of this incredible material – more than took its toll. But what an album. I bought it on vinyl – an original copy with the maddening loop at the end, forcing you to interact with the music; forcing you to remove the record as you hear Phil Judd’s mad cackle telling you to “make a mental note” over and over and over and over and over. But what music. That opening track, Walking Down A Road, placing you right in it; right away. And the one-two of that and then Under The Wheel. I still think, sometimes, what the hell is that song Stranger Than Fiction. You know, like what actually is it?! It’s a masterpiece this album – to me it’s the great Kiwi album. And I’m very proud and pleased to have a framed print of the artwork, made for me by Phil Judd, signed to me (to Simon ‘The’ Sweetman). It hangs proudly in the hallway. I drink it in every day, several times a day. One of my favourite pieces of art to have – in recognition of the best interview I ever had, and in recognition of the album too, also one of my favourite pieces of art to have. An amazing, spooky, creepy picture to stare at, reminding me of not only the two hours of phone time and years spent networking and gaining trust to enable a one-off interview with Judd. It’s also a permanent reminder for the spaces between listening to an amazing, spooky, creepy album – and of the fact that Judd really is (or certainly has/had) an amazing, spooky, creepy talent. And listening to Mental Notes, something I only do once or twice a year now, feels like a eulogy.
Sample Track: Spellbound
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