Monday, July 6, 2009

Tim's Escapade From The Enz

Prior to 1983, no serving member of Australasian powerhouse Split Enz had recorded a full album outside of the confines of the group. Most of the members had some minor flirtations with other artists and projects, in a writing or guest player capacity, whilst former co-frontman Phil Judd had proven there was life after Enz, via his new band The Swingers (see future post). Following the enormous commercial and critical success of Split Enz’s 1982 album, ‘Time And Tide’, founding member Tim Finn decided to test the waters beyond band boundaries, with his debut solo album ‘Escapade’.

1982’s ‘Time And Tide’ had continued a stellar run of commercial success for Split Enz, and notched up the band’s third consecutive #1 album on the Australian charts. It also yielded two more top ten hits, both sung by Tim Finn, the forebodingly funky ‘Dirty Creature’ (OZ#6), and the sea faring pop brilliance of ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’ (OZ#2). Just as the Enz were on the crest of a continuous three year wave of success, defined by majestic creative expression, Tim Finn took time out from the band to record his debut solo album. With the gun production team of Mark Moffatt and Ricky Fataar at the helm, Tim Finn’s ‘Escapade’ album hit stores in June of ‘83, to much anticipation and fanfare.

Several of the songs included on the album, had been penned with the intention of adding to the Split Enz songbook, but on further consideration, Tim Finn felt they weren’t quite right for the band’s sound. The reggae inflected ‘Fraction Too Much Friction’ was one such song, but it proved just the right choice for the album’s lead out single. ‘Fraction Too Much Friction’ climbed rapidly up the Australian charts to a peak of #8. Just as the ‘Escapade’ album received a top ten sentence (#8), the second single ‘Made My Day’ was released in August of ‘83. The gospel inspired song was an uplifting ray of pop-rock sunshine, and it was the first single I had bought from the album (in fact counts among the first twenty or so singles I ever bought). ‘Made My Day’ peaked at #22, but deserved to rise well above and beyond that. By the end of ‘83, Tim Finn had scored his third top forty solo hit in three attempts, when ‘Staring At The Embers’ stared down #34 on the Australian charts.

There were mixed feelings from others associated with the Split Enz world, regarding the runaway success of Tim Finn’s ‘Escapade’. In the 1993 documentary ‘Spellbound’, Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner reflected that he had just thought that Tim Finn was “having a fling” away from the band, and that he’d no doubt return to his safe and secure “marriage” to Split Enz. Mushroom head honcho Michael Gudinski was adamant that, had he been the band’s manager, he would never have allowed Finn to record ‘Escapade’ at that time. Given that Split Enz were on such a phenomenal wave of success, Gudinski felt all efforts should have remained focussed on the band. In hindsight, Tim Finn’s temporary ‘Escapade’ from the Split Enz, no doubt diluted their creative force, and effectively stalled three years of commercial/ artistic momentum, that had led the band to the brink of global acclaim. Though Finn was not yet ready to cut ties completely from the Enz.

In July of ‘83, with Tim Finn riding high on both single and album charts, Split Enz returned to the studio to begin work on their eighth studio album. The chemistry inside the studio had changed, in the sense of creative input. Where as previously Tim Finn had, for the most part, contributed a greater share of songs to the mix, on 1983’s ‘Conflicting Emotions’ the balance had shifted, with younger brother Neil writing six of the album’s ten songs. Among Neil’s contributions were the two major hits, the quirky ‘Strait Old Line’ (OZ#42), and the sublime ballad ‘Message To My Girl’ (OZ#12). Personally, ‘Conflicting Emotions’ rates inside my top three favourite Enz albums, and singles aside, contained eight more excellent songs. Of Tim Finn’s share, the stand outs were the inspiring ‘I Wake Up Every Night’, and mercurially melancholy ‘Bon Voyage’. It’s not that Tim Finn had contributed a handful of hastily penned, throw away pop fodder to the mix, but it’s true that the dynamic had shifted, and the album was a less seamless affair than previous. In essence, ‘Conflicting Emotions’ was an amalgamation of two separate EP’s, a brilliant effort from Neil, and a very, very good effort from Tim. But doubtless, had the band’s creative energies remained focussed and pooled together, ‘Conflicting Emotions’ (OZ#13) could have, and should have, been yet another commercial triumph for the Enz.

With both Split Enz and his solo album firmly entrenched inside the Australian top twenty during January of ‘84, Tim Finn was very likely experiencing some conflicting emotions of his own, with regards to his ongoing tenure with the Enz. The band were in the process of rehearsing for a new tour, and had plans to focus on an album of new material, when Tim Finn announced that was it for him. Neil Finn later recounted, in 1993’s ‘Spellbound’ documentary, that the band resolved to record another album without Tim, partly out of anger, and stubbornness, and partly to reaffirm their commitment to continue the Split Enz voyage. Though not planned as a final album, 1984’s ‘See Ya Round’ (OZ#29) proved to be a disappointing swan song for one of the truly legendary bands of the Australasian music scene. Not that it didn’t contain some genuine Neil Finn gems, in the appropriately titled single ‘I Walk Away’ (OZ#45), and the hauntingly beautiful ‘Voices’, but sans Tim Finn, Split Enz just couldn’t recapture the magic that had cast a spell over the ‘True Colours’, ‘Corroboree’ and ‘Time and Tide’ era.

By the second half of ‘84, Neil Finn had decided that he couldn’t continue carrying the band forward without Tim’s involvement, and effectively that spelled the end for the Enz. Tim Finn returned for the band’s series of farewell concerts during late ‘84, labelled ‘Enz With A Bang’, which proved a suitably buoyant send off for Split Enz. Of course, Neil Finn proved himself more than capable of being the solitary creative drive within a band, via the brilliant Crowded House, who ended up outselling Split Enz. Meanwhile, Tim Finn continued to record as a solo artist, though ‘Escapade’ remained the high watermark in terms of commercial returns. Albums such as ‘Big Canoe’ (OZ#31-1986), ‘Tim Finn’ (OZ#44-1989) - my personal favourite, and ‘Before & After’ (OZ#29-1993), established Finn as a solo act of rare distinction on the Australasian soundscape. The Finn brothers worked together once more on the 1991 Crowded House album ‘Woodface’, with Tim being a fulltime member for some time, and they have recorded two albums together, under the moniker of ‘Finn’. Meanwhile, the members of Split Enz have remained inexorably drawn together over the years, with several reunion tours, anniversary shows, and one off festival appearances, keeping the Split Enz flame well and truly alive. The most recent Split Enz gathering took place just recently, at the March ‘09 ‘Sound Relief’ charity concert in Melbourne. Long live the Enz!

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