Sunday, June 1, 2008

Whisper From A Fast Window

Following on from the break-up of iconic New Zealand band Split Enz in 1984, the various members went on to work on numerous projects with varying levels of success. Tim Finn had already established a lucrative solo career, whilst the most notable post-Enz endeavour came via Neil Finn’s Crowded House. The achievements of Crowded House need no additional coverage here, suffice to say that they count among the most respected and revered Australasian bands of the 80s/90s. Fellow ex-Enz’er Paul Hester played with them as did Tim Finn for a time, as did Eddie Rayner as a touring member. Rayner also formed the short-lived Kiwi duo The Makers with Brian Baker (‘Big Picture’ 1990), and went on to produce the two Enzso project albums of the mid 90s.

The remaining members of the final Split Enz lineup went on to work with a founding member and Enz alumni Phil Judd. Vocalist/guitarist Judd had left Split Enz in 1977 and had in the interim formed The Swingers (Australasian #1 ‘Counting The Beat’ 1981). In 1986 he joined with fellow Enz alumni Noel Crombie (drums/percussion), Nigel Griggs (bass) and ex-Broderick Smith Band member Michael den Elzen to form Schnell Fenster. Schnell Fenster translates from the German to English as ‘fast window’ which is about as logical as you’d expect from a band containing the eccentricities of Judd and Crombie (they had thought of calling themselves The Wanx).

In 1988 Schnell Fenster released their debut album ‘The Sound Of Trees’. The album reached as high as #70 in Australia and yielded two charting singles. The debut single ‘Whisper’ (#58) was quirky but quality. Phil Judd’s eccentric approach to compositions and production values was evident, and there were echoes of early Split Enz work in the Schnell Fenster sound. The other single to chart was ‘Love Hate Relationship’ (#81) but my favourite track was the third single ‘This Illusion’ which unfortunately didn’t capture the public’s attention late in ‘88 (save for myself who bought the 45). The band also carried on Noel Crombie’s signature costume and image work from Split Enz, which at times bordered on the just plain weird, one of their clips featuring the four band members wearing the one giant suit.

Also during 1988 the members of Schnell Fenster comprised part of the musical ensemble Noel’s Cowards who contributed to the ’Rikky And Pete’ movie soundtrack (and also included Wendy Matthews, Michael Harris, Louis McManus, Vika Bull and Lisa Edwards in their lineup).

There was promise of better things to come from the debut album, but sadly Schnell Fenster’s sophomore effort ‘OK Alright, A Huh, O Yeah’ (1991) didn’t survive the onslaught of grunge that hit around the same time. The only single to chart was the title track (#74 late 1990). With flagging label support and drummer Noel Crombie developing tinnitus to a debilitating degree Schnell Fenster came to a grinding halt soon after. Judd returned to soundtrack work once more, writing the soundtrack to the film ‘Death In Brunswick’ in 1992, and eventually released a solo album in 2006 with ‘Mr. Phudd and His Novelty Act’ (the title more than a bit self referential). The other members continued to work in and around the industry, with Crombie and Griggs returning to the Split Enz fold on a number of occasions over the years for reunion tours. I always think of Schnell Fenster as being a glimpse of what might have been had Phil Judd remained with Split Enz.

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