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I started to write a review of Mental Notes tonight, to see what people thought. The thing is, I became so absorbed in the album as a whole, the sheer virtuosity displayed in the playing (I would go so far as to say that Wally Wilkinson is by far the most talented lead guitarist to play in Split Enz, his playing is superb on this album) and the complexity of the music, that I soon realised that my review would quickly turn into thesis lengths if I covered everything I wanted to say. Here are some of the words I thought described the feel of the album:

eccentric, gothic, byzantine (in it's complexity), vaudeville.

There really is no denying that this is a fully fledged Progressive Rock album. The level of through composition displayed is amazing for a rock album (yes yes I know I hear some people screaming what about Emmerson Lake and Palmer, but they took themselves so seriously). Don't you just love those mellotron strings that are in virtually every song? And the mellotron flutes in Titus are so haunting. I so much prefer this version than the ST one. Phil's so focused with thge intesity of his vocals. The ST version of Titus comes of far more mellow and less threatning than this one. Such a high degree of unease and tension seem to run throughout the songs. It's not light music.

One thing I can say is that Second Thoughts may be a much better recording (from a technical viewpoint, the playing sounds a bit tired and slightly dissillusioned) but it is nowhere as coherent as a whole as Mental Notes, nor as intense.

Hopefully this will spark some debate, so that I can get really verbose on what is probably my most favourite SPlit Enz album. Reading through this, I see that I already have (become quite verbose Smiler )
Original Post
If I might offer an adjunct to the above in the form of a further question: can anyone rack their brains and think of one single significant musical precedent to the sounds heard on Mental Notes and its subsequent companion, Second Thoughts? All the elements described above are certainly present - in a big way - but nothing seems overly drawn from one particular inspirational source. It's simply confounding how unique their synthesis was and still is to these ears. Early Roxy Music managed the same breakthrough, but a world away. The sound - and LOOK! - of The Enz conferred a feeling to me that New Zealand was truly another world and almost another planet to be able to produce such music. They couldn't have possibly been more persuasive representatives of this amazingly beautiful spot. Could this sound have been born in a place more mainstreamed - at least geographically - with the rest of the pop world? A straight answer from Judd or Rayner or an unbiased one with Tim Finn would sure fascinate the hell out of me. I still can't totally fathom the scope of their achievement.
quote:
Originally posted by private life:
[qb] can anyone rack their brains and think of one single significant musical precedent to the sounds heard on Mental Notes and its subsequent companion, Second Thoughts?[/qb]
Tim Finn denied the influence of King Crimson (Stranger than Fiction, p.145), but their 1969 album "In the Court of the Crimson King" is really quite reminiscent of "Second Thoughts" as far as I'm concerned. There's even a song about "talking to the wind"!
Oh, I totally see hints (or more) of this and that in their early sounds. It's just the way it was thrown together still kind of makes my head spin. King Crimson were at the vanguard of progressive rock and no doubt gave countless players the inspiration to push the boundaries quite a bit. They weren't exactly known for their lighthearted whimsy, though, to put it very, very mildly. Split Enz always made you feel like you had ingested a massive dose of helium. And then there were the visuals!
Well I'm not so sure about Mental Notes, but on the early singles - "The White Album" by The Beatles. I guarantee you listening to that album, It's easy to see some of the influence on the Finns and Judd.

Also - Dark Side of The Moon would have had some of an influence on it, mostly on Eddie Rayner.
Any Colour You Like - Ghost Girl Keyboard Solo (from Waiata, 1981)
The thing about this album for me was that I virtually hated it at first - the music just didn't make sense to me in the way it flowed (or didnt). For some reason I persisted with a few more listens and was completely hooked.

What inspired me was that they seemed to have created their own logic and musical language and once you 'got it' you couldnt get enough of it. Beyond this there is an integrity about it that shines through the production values that some people complain about.

The integrity for me is in an aesthetic that is more visual than it is musical. It seems to me that Phil was painting musical pictures and like the cover art was exploring the themes dear to the Surrealists. The title Mental Notes is also entirely apt - musical recordings of thoughts.

Like the surrealists they were exploring the world of the subconscious - esp of doubts, fears. I dont think the other so called 'Progressive Rock' albums were doing this.

There is no doubt to me that this was Phils' album with the others adding their parts and being inspired by his surreal vision.

It would be great if there could be some celebration of the achievement of this album on its 30th anniversary. Even greater if they could get together and record some of the unfinished works from this period.

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