David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 272: Split Enz (I See Red)

August 1, 2023

After last week's Arrested Development post, I have to assume some potential readers might be singing Split Enz's "I See Red." Of course, those potential readers would have no idea who Split Enz was. They probably wouldn't even know Crowded House.

That would make me see red.

First off, Split Enz and Crowded House, the offshoot band after the Enz disbanded, are really two very different bands. The former was quirky, eccentric and probably deflected from their talents with their outrageous videos and stage antics. Crowded House ended up more of a pure pop band, both in sound and in image. However, unfortunately, unless the Women's World Cup somehow features them in some way (Split Enz were from New Zealand), they will remain disturbingly unknown by too many people. (I suppose even if FIFA does recognize them through the Women's World Cup, most of America still wouldn't know about them.)

Yet, that's not the main reason I see red. I see red because they offer a perspective for anyone coming to Jason Aldean's defense or to attack Arrested Development (and come to think of it, I may have outraged both some heavy metal fans and Germans with my last post on Scorpions).

While my critique of a Jason Aldean video (more so than his song) probably caused some friends and family on one side of the aisle to see the red they have been bleeding for quite awhile, my lament through Split Enz's "I See Red" is more about outrage culture across the board. Trust me, I have heard enough outrage from the other side of the family and friends' aisle to not split hairs about who Split Enz could be singing to. Besides, outrage is sold to us by the minute by your local "news" outlet.

"I See Red" is a classic song of rage, if not outright outrage. So much outrage that lead singer, Neil Finn, belts out "I see red" 58 times in the 3+ minute song. Add in at least 8 or 9 distinct baritone "I see reds" near the end, probably thanks to Neil's brother Tim, and you are pushing 70, or about one every 3 seconds. That's angry-bull-kind-of-red-intolerance.

All of this set to a riff that especially at the beginning could be Steve Jones and the Sex Pistols, the late 1970s musical carriers of outrage; later some spastic piano and guitar, could come straight out of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, another artist, another album, in a moment of time, that was all the rage.

While the lyrics seem to be about the rage of seeing an ex-lover in public, I think they can easily translate to our obnoxious conservative Uncle Ralph while equally applying to our insufferable liberal Aunt Ida. "How can someone wicked walk so free?" Uncle Ralph asks of Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, while Aunt Ida sits at the other end of the room, asking the same thing about Donald Trump.

Everyday these polar sides of our families must feel like they're "fed up with crying [with] despair . . . dying/turning into rage day by day." How appropriate all this comes under the guise of Frenzy, Split Enz's 1978 album featuring "I See Red," and appropriate societal moniker between their albums Dizrhythmia and True Colours. For being a bunch of lads on the other side of the world, over 45 years ago, they seem quite in tune in with America in 2023. And here we all thought Finn was singing about a nasty romantic break-up.

Split Enz never even really looked the part of angry young men. The Pistols and Costello exuded rage and anger; the Finns and company seemed to be playing a part. Most Split Enz songs were lyrically on the dark side, despite showing the pop sensibilities that Finn would take to Crowded House. Their biggest hit in America, "I Got You" subjected the optimism of the title with the undercurrent of the repeating "I don't know why sometimes I get frightened." Maybe that is the sentiment we wish the world would take on: there's a lot of value in self-doubt and self-examination. Until that happens, and I suspect it will be a long time, I will, ironically, see red.

Split Enz. "I See Red." Frenzy. A&M, 1979. Link here.

Day 271: Scorpions "Rock You Like A Hurricane"

Day 273: Moby: "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters"

See complete list here.