Friday, June 08, 2007

enz of an era

I should talk about music more. I listen to music nearly all the time, but I hardly ever talk about it with people because we use music as background noise for our conversations and it's long past the time of high school when we formed most of our musical opinions anyway. Maybe, during the television summer repeats (and no Rockstar: INXS or Supernova), now would be a good time to start a pop music dialogue. Maybe this could be the first in a series.

What musical act's work do you think I relate to the most?

If you said Depeche Mode... you'd be wrong. They've got a ton of relatable stuff out there. Every song is broadly about life, love and lust. Officially, my favorite song ever is "Halo." They also have some unspoken gems. "The Bottom Line" is an obsessive love song with impact every bit as powerful as "Every Breath You Take." Yes, they come very, very close and on some days Depeche Mode would be the right answer, but not today.

The White Stripes is a pretty good guess too. Where Depeche Mode put the the emotional emphasis on coldness through programmed blips and confident lyrical negativism, The White Stripes re-injected popular music with the wondrous use of blues. There's playing loud and wailing to get your point across, then there's playing loud and wailing with soul. There's something I can't quite explain about the exuberance I have with screeching along to the words while not just head-banging, but bopping to the syncopated beat. Needless to say, I'm very excited that The White Stripes are coming, but they're not who I'm thinking about right now.

The musical act I most relate to, at least today, is very obviously Split Enz. They aren't some underground indie phenomenon or anything. Unfortunately, they don't exist as a band anymore. They're actually quite old -- late 70s, early 80s. They had some brilliantly whimsical pop delight tinged with a sort of cynicism-in-denial.

Growing up I had heard a couple of their songs, but I didn't really get into them until I went on my mission to New Zealand. On the way over, one of the in-flight audio channels was playing a little special on Tim and Neil Finn -- the two brothers in the band. I learned that they were actually from New Zealand and the show played me a few clips that were in my head my whole stay there. On the way out of the country I picked up a few Split Enz cds that I still keep close today.

I started thinking of them more recently when we were all driving to Lagoon. I got out my iPod and attempted to find the most Lagoony music. I came up with Split Enz because lots of their music sounds like carnival music. This is the case especially with songs like "My Mistake." The music sounds like a marching band on a carousel. The words are simply self-deprecating.
I went out to see if I could fall in love again
That was my mistake
That was my mistake
I went out to see if I could raise a laugh again
That was my mistake
That was my mistake
You may have heard a couple of their new wave pop hits from the early 80s. Their most famous was probably "I Got You." That's the one that's really monotone during the verses, but then the chorus kicks up with the gleeful chant "I don't know why sometimes I get frightened!" Pearl Jam covered this one. It's sort of about obsessive love (again, like "Every Breath You Take").

Another semi-hit from them with a very similar gumshoe down-beat sound is "One Step Ahead," which holds a place in my heart as the only song I really sat down and learned on the guitar. Just like "I Got You" the song starts off steady and calm but then builds to a subtle anxiety attack both musically and vocally. It's also famous for one band member's use of a forward moonwalk in the song's video a couple of years before Michael Jackson made the moonwalk famous.

When they wanted to, they sometimes dropped the upbeat musical mask. The tragic song "Charlie" seems to be about a brute pleading forgiveness from the victim of his horrendous and possibly fatal abuse. "The Devil You Know" seems to be about the futility of doing good in the modern world. Both songs employ sad, desperate instrumentation.

For the most part though, they were a pop band. I've only noticed their miserable side from many many listens. There could be many reasons for all the negativity. They never really achieved huge mainstream success. For a short period they actually had to go on the dole. Perhaps their moving from New Zealand to Australia to England never really got rid of their sealocked cabin fever.

I'm probably reading too much into it. Just listen to "I See Red" and "History Never Repeats." Both are about anger over failed love affairs. A minority would hear them as tragedy. Most would hear them as comedy.

It wasn't all pretense and veiled gloom. One of their very last songs was a straight-up beauty of a ballad called "Message To My Girl." I'd reprint the lyrics, but they'd sound too cheesy without Neil Finn's harmonious and simple piano and strings. I suppose it was telling of the band's future. Neil formed the pretty successful Crowded House. You may remember them as the guys who sang the "hey now hey now don't dream it's over" song. I'll always relate Crowded House with being a band that Parker Lewis buys concert tickets for in that old tv show (anyone remember Parker Lewis Can't Lose?). Neil's brother Tim joined crowded house from time to time inbetween his solo projects. Strangely, a couple of years ago, the last drummer for Split Enz committed suicide.

I would recommend picking up the Split Enz 2-cd greatest hits compilation called Spellbound. The title is very strange considering the band has a song called "Spellbound" but it doesn't actually appear on the collection (maybe the record company was going for a Doors sort of mystique). Or I guess I could just burn you some really good songs. If you feel like sampling a bit, listen to all the tracks I've mentioned above and also "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," "Poor Boy," "Stuff and Nonsense," "Walk Away" and "I Hope I Never."

*sigh* It would have been really great to see them live.


Blogger charlottalove said...

I don't want to say I like this post...that would give away too much.

June 08, 2007 6:22 AM  
Blogger Poomaker said...

oubny!! Word verification word of the day nominee.

I bought a Neil Finn album 'One All' a few years back. I enjoyed the song 'Driving me mad'.

- maker

June 08, 2007 3:47 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Ok- so I thought I wasn't that familiar with Split Enz, but your post inspired me to listen. Come to find out- I am more familiar with the music than I initially thought. I was just too little to realize the name of the band I was enjoying. I actually have some pretty fond memories to a couple of the songs - which is pretty weird.

I am now listening to their CD as I type this post at my lame-o work.


June 12, 2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

First of all, any discussion of music on the way to Lagoon needs to reference the day that we got kicked out of Lagoon, but before that the dude who was running the swing played wicked awesome music! The only one I remember was Nine Inch Nails, "I Was Up Above It" but perhaps you'll recall other ones.

Incidentally, the local alternative station in Philadelphia, WXPN just did an interview with the Finn brothers, who are I believe doing another project presently. I only caught the tail end of the interview. However, if you google World Cafe XPN (which is, I believe syndicated) it might just pop up.

I would google it, but I am far too lazy.

June 13, 2007 5:54 PM  
Blogger joN. said...

funny, that particular lagoon trip also came up in conversation, but i didn't write it. thanks for doing it for me. i don't remembe any other songs from that day. for some reason, the fun i had on that ride was the actual moment i started liking nine inch nails' music.

June 20, 2007 12:32 PM  
Blogger Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I agree,

Although now I like all of Pretty Hate Machine, and precious little of anything else by "NIN"

June 21, 2007 7:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home