R E V I E W
‘True Colours – New Colours’: Split Enz tribute album
By Ian Duggan
Like many New Zealand music lovers, I went through a Split Enz phase in my younger years. I bought all the albums, including multiple variants of some. My primary love though was for their early work; songs contained on the first few singles, like ‘For You’, ‘Split Ends’ and ‘129’, and the albums ‘Mental Notes’ (1975), ‘Second Thoughts’ (1976) and ‘Dizrythmia’ (1977). The wheels were falling off for me by the time they got to 1979s ‘Frenzy’, though the band were still able to release some fantastic singles over the following years. If you are familiar with the history of the Enz, it will be clear that the music I best appreciated was that from the Phil Judd-era, and I much preferred what he did as a solo artist on his ‘Private Lives’ album, with The Swingers and then Schnell Fenster than much of what Split Enz released following his departure (or, for that matter, Tim Finn’s solo work, or Crowded House).
True Colours was released in 1980 and represented the band’s first major commercial success, reaching #1 in Australia and New Zealand, #10 in Canada, #38 in the UK and #40 in the USA, particularly on the back of the Neil Finn penned single, ‘I Got You’. This album led to a change in their fanbase – some older fans continued to support the band in its new overtly poppy direction, while others were lost – though the new approach clearly attracted a slew of new followers. Personally, I find the original True Colours album to be patchy; it does have some superb pop songs, in particular the singles ‘I Hope I Never’ and ‘Poor Boy’. Nevertheless, it also features ‘I Got You’, their massive hit, which for me has not aged well. Further, songs like ‘What's the Matter with You’, ‘I Wouldn't Dream of It’, ‘Missing Person’ and ‘How Can I Resist Her’ have always felt like fillers, making up the numbers, and also a bit cringey. Nevertheless, there were some pleasant surprises on the original album, particularly ‘The Choral Sea’ - an instrumental written by the whole band, which provided a strong finish to the LP.
Forty-one years after the original, a tribute album, ‘True Colours – New Colours’, has been released, featuring covers of all the songs from the album, in their original order, by a variety of New Zealand and Australian artists. For me, however, this album was on a hiding to nothing before it even started. As mentioned, many of the songs on the original album just aren’t that strong, and as such they would need to get some special treatment to be salvaged by the artists interpreting them.
Starting with the positives, however, is that all the artists attempted to make the songs their own, rather than simply emulating the originals. This is true for the opening track, ‘Shark Attack’, covered by Chelsea Jade. For me, this dream-pop version is one of the highlights of the album – it isn’t frenetic like the original, or as the lyrical content might suggest it should be. Some might see this as a down point, but I disagree; I want a different interpretation, and this one is successful in giving it to me. The Beth’s sped-up, poppy take on ‘What's The Matter With You’ is pretty good also, for the most part, with Elizabeth Stokes’ vocal delivery more appealing to me than Tim Finn’s on this song.
At the other extreme, the strongest tracks on the original album come in for the harshest of treatment. Bernard Fanning’s (Powderfinger) take on ‘I Hope I Never’ I find unlistenable, and Stan Walker’s dubby/BBQ reggae version of ‘Poor Boy’ reminds me of much of what I find wrong with New Zealand’s most popular music artists currently. ‘The Choral Sea’, also one of my favourites on the original album, is made unrecognisable by Pacific Heights, while Shihad’s take on ‘I Got You’, like the original, just doesn’t work for me here either.
Tribute albums are always patchy, and this one is no exception. Overall, this one just doesn’t really work for me. Some of this is obviously the result of uninspired song interpretation, which is unfortunate, but the quality of some of the source material here was probably never going to make this a winner.