When I was a kid, I’d ride my bike to the local Licorice Pizza, eat the free licorice and spend hours going through the racks, looking at just about every lp in the Rock section. It didn’t take me long to discover the “Import” racks. It was where all the most interesting stuff lurked.
I didn’t know what to think when Mental Notes arrived some time in 1976. I couldn’t stop looking at it. They didn’t look queer enough to be Glam, so what were they? Some kind of Art Rock? Whatever they were I bought something else that day which I’ve not only forgotten, but probably didn’t like anyway.
Before I had a chance to change my mind, my buddy X-C Polymer (Mr. Malibu Fire) snagged it. He made me a cassette copy of the album, which I ended up playing to death. (The lp was rescued by chance from the 2006 “Malibu Fire”).
It was smart and clever, which I’m usually suspicious of, but the sound had elements of Roxy Music and The Kinks, so I was predisposed to like it.
Produced by Phil Manzanera, Roxy Music guitarist extraordinaire, and at the time, one of the coolest dudes in Rock and Roll, the album is stuffed chocka block with ideas, in a good way.
Decades later I discovered Mental Notes as first released in New Zealand was in reality a different album, and the version I knew was a mostly rerecorded second album released in New Zealand as Second Thoughts.
I bought their next album, Dizrythmia, the day it came out, which turned out to be one of the most disappointing followups I’ve ever heard. The music was so different, and less interesting, they almost sounded like a different band. Two original members had left, among them the principal songwriter, Phil Judd (also the artist responsible for that amazing cover) leaving Tim Finn in charge. Neil, Tim’s little brother, replaced him. The best songs were two left-over Phil Judd compositions.
“Nice To Know” is a credible Beatles pastiche, and probably not an accident, as it was produced and engineered by Geoff Emerick, The Beatles and George Martin’s engineer of choice.
What impressed me about Mental Notes was that after playing it 10 times I still couldn’t anticipate what was coming next. I found it dense and complicated, yet totally engaging, which doesn’t happen often. When it does, I’m usually hooked for good.
Phil Judd succumbed to the pressures of life on the road and left the band. You can see in his cover painting that when everyone decided to get “funny” haircuts, he shaved his head, not usually an indicator of mental stability.
For the whole Split Enz saga: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_Enz
BTW I gave wikipedia money.