When New Zealand rockers Split Enz released ‘True Colours’ over 40 years ago, it completely shifted the course of their careers. The album not only scored the band’s first number ones in both Australia and their native NZ, it also expanded their audience globally, cracking both the top 40 in both the US and UK.
And while both Finn brothers have gone on to write their fair share of both global smashes and cult favourites, they always come back to the well of ‘True Colours’ (on the most recent Fleetwood Mac tour, Neil Finn and Stevie Nicks even performed ‘I Got You’ together). Decades on, these songs have properly stood the test of time.
The Finns are no strangers to having their songs covered – the ambitious ‘They Will Have Their Way’ project featured a myriad of acts giving modern spins on songs from across their catalogue. ‘True Colours, New Colours’, however, marks the first time an entire Split Enz record has been covered from front to back.
Much like the ‘Way’ albums from 2005 and 2011, a unique mix of bands and artists have each staked a claim on each song from the record. A mix of stylistic approaches are on offer throughout, too – with some proving to be considerably more sustainable than others. Bernard Fanning’s ‘I Hope I Never’ strips the original’s sombre piano in exchange for a chirpy acoustic guitar, before inexplicably bringing in a clunky rhythm section so out of place it almost feels off-beat. Stan Walker, meanwhile, opts to turn ‘Poor Boy’ into a squeaky-clean dub song with honking synth-horns – promptly steamrolling the song’s emotive pop-rock strut in the process and adding nothing new of substance.
Chelsea Jade and Lime Cordiale unfortunately also miss the point of the original songs. The former puts the jittery, rocking opener ‘Shark Attack’ on cruise control with Lorde-lite production and disinterested delivery, while the latter spoil the playful nature of Tim Finn’s ‘Nobody Takes Me Seriously’ with performative smugness and laboured, hokey instrumentation.
It’s certainly not impossible to code-switch the genres, however. Australian duo Busby Marou, for one, take the tenderness of ‘Missing Person’ and draw it out over bare-bones piano and striking vocal harmonies. Electropop veteran Ladyhawke, too, retools the landscape of ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’ to amplify its new-wave flavour with impressive results.
Ultimately, the covers that fare best are those that have just the right degree of kinship with Split Enz’s originals. Shihad’s version of ‘True Colours’’ breakout hit ‘I Got You’ certainly rocks harder than the original, but maintains its dynamic use of tension and release. Auckland duo Dual, too, serve up a version of Eddie Rayner’s instrumental ‘Double Happy’ that is simultaneously faithful to the source material and adventurous in its own right.
Coming out on top, however, are fellow Kiwis The Beths. It’s easy to see the throughline from the Finns’ left-of-centre, harmonious pop-rock to their own. Accordingly, their take on ‘What’s The Matter With You’ is two rollicking minutes of brisk, driving power-pop. The end result makes an obscene amount of sense as a Beths song.
‘True Colours, New Colours’ is an earnest attempt at paying tribute to one of the most significant albums to ever come from New Zealand. It’s not perfect, but you’re still left with a thorough appreciation of ‘True Colours’ itself – its classic singles, its experimental detours, its role in Neil Finn coming into his own as a songwriter. Regardless of the tributes’ qualities, the fact that such different artists were all inspired by ‘True Colours’ in their own way says a lot about both its impact and its surviving legacy.
- Release date: February 12
- Record label: Warner Music