|1. Hard Act To Follow|
|2. One Step Ahead|
|3. I Don't Wanna Dance|
|7. History Never Repeats|
|8. Walking Through The Ruins|
|10. Ghost Girl|
|11. Albert Of India|
Note: This album was released as Corrborree in Australia. Both titles translate as "party" -- the Australian title is in an Australian aboriginal language, the regular title is in Maori.
The Finn musical legacy is somewhat unusual. These days, Neil & Tim Finn are most famous for their ability to write intelligent pop hooks and lyrics, generally relying on sensibility more than virtuousity to present their material. And they generally do this quite well, only rarely straying into material that seems patronizing or uninspired (the two pitfalls that most pop acts have the hardest time avoiding).
What few people among the general Finn fan base realize, however, is that this legacy began in the rather sparse New Zealand progressive scene of the early 1970s (one wonders, in fact, if there were *any* other bands in this scene). Mental Notes, the original Enz album, is a bonafide classic within the market, showcasing Tim Finn's ability to present his gifts within the context of expanded musical composition. Many of the overtly progressive elements of the album were the responsibility of Phil Judd, who left the group not many years later.
The progressive influence did not end with Judd's departure, however. Throughout the continuing history of the Enz (and, arguably, into Crowded House as well), there remained some elements of their progressive origins. Time And Tide has moments that remind the listener of Genesis and Gentle Giant, most notably to be found within the classic "Six Months In A Leaky Boat" single. Waiata, released one year earlier, contains similar such references (those perhaps not quite as pronounced as those on its successor ... perhaps budget problems were a factor.)
Waiata is not a progressive album -- it is an intelligent pop album with some progressive leanings, vaguely similar to Genesis's Duke and, perhaps even more prominent, Yes's Drama (due to a rather strong "new wave" presence that was to continue into later years). It's the sort of pop album, in other words, that progressive fans should like. The case could be made, in fact, that Split Enz made the most successful transition from progressive to pop music of all bands of the period. Perhaps their isolation from Los Angeles culture was a factor ...
Having said all of that, I should also note that Waiata isn't the best Split Enz album in existence. It's consistently good from beginning to end, but there isn't very much that's actually *great* here. "Hard Act To Follow", the lead-off track is probably the best "pop" track on the album, a punchy Ultravox-meets-Genesis (c. 1980) number notable for an impressive bass line, odd percussion effects, dominant keys, and an unbelievably catchy chorus (sung by Tim -- both of the Finn brothers sing lead only the tracks that they themselves wrote). If all pop could be this good, it wouldn't have such a bad name in the progressive community.
The rest of the tracks generally aren't quite as impressive. "One Step Ahead" is a bass-dominated number written by Neil. Despite a proggy keyboard section and an odd segueway halfway through the song, this essence of the track doesn't really go terribly far from beginning to end; there isn't anything wrong with it, but it's nothing earth-shaking. Similarly "I Don't Wanna Dance", a fun-but-insubstantial clever-lyric number which features a brief (and fairly good) guitar solo towards the end.
"Iris", written by Neil, is a bit more poppy, and a bit more irritating than the other tracks here ("Iris" and "I feel desirous" can only be rhymed so many times before annoyance sets in). The song features good playing and is essentially successful within its intentions, but doesn't really develop into anything more.
"Wail" is one of two instrumentals on the album, both of which are written by Rayner. These works are the most distinctly Progressive on the album, although "Wail" also bears an uncanny similarity to a particular Police number ("The Other Way Of Stopping", perhaps?). The guitar/bass feature towards the beginning of the song is quite good, as is the guitar solo at the end (and the backing vocals -- by Neil, I think -- contribute fairly well to the overall mood of the piece). Perhaps the order of the track listing was meant to prove their ability to produce both simple and complex works.
If this is the case, "Clumsy" provides a palindromic structure in relation to the previous two tracks. This semi-novelty track (about relationship nervousness, of course, with some clever lyrics) is essentially a slightly skewed pop song, with the rate of divergence not enough to alarm most listeners. The drumming towards the end is fairly good, though.
"History Never Repeats" continues this trend with another installment in the series of odd love lyrics; the chorus is easily the highlight of this work, though the third verse is fairly good too (the rhythm guitar at the end of this piece is also fairly distinctive, oddly enough). "Walking Through The Ruins", too, continues this thematic cycle, though perhaps slightly more successfully -- this work contains good lyrics, good vocal harmonics, and a somewhat minimal (and somewhat Police-esque, again) musical backing. The work also seems to be deliberately murky, as per the image of the title. The bass develops towards the end. "Ships" is another catchy prog-pop number, with some electronic trickery on the keyboards; there isn't really anything in particular to distinguish the song itself from those around it.
The last two tracks are among the better moments of the album. Tim's "Ghost Girl" is slightly more "epic" than the other tracks, and somewhat more mysterious as well -- the music, reflecting this theme, is very atmospheric and minimal (which works, in this context). The lyric relates to the legend of the soul of a departed female, trapped between two worlds and carrying all whom she touches with her into the lost realms. The bass is quite good throughout, and a few touching guitar parts appear towards the end.
Finally, the album ends with "Albert Of India" (the significance of the title still escapes me). After a percussion opening, a Morazish keyboard part appears. This is another progressive work -- if not as immediately engaging as "Wail", it still proves itself substantial enough to deserve a decent rating.
This album cannot be given the highest rating among Split Enz albums -- that honour goes to Mental Notes. It is, however, a decent, if somewhat limited work, and would not be inappropriate in the collections of progressive listeners.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 22 August 1997)