Phil Judd has been one of the most under-rated Australian artists ever since he formed his first band over 40 years ago. That band was Split Enz and Phil was in the pilot seat alongside Tim Finn for the first five years of the band’s existence. His unique approach to music was evident on the band’s first two albums, Mental Notes and Second Thoughts. By the time the third Enz album, Dyzrhythmia was recorded; Phil had left the band and was replaced by Tim’s younger brother Neil Finn. Judd kept a low profile for a few years before he emerged with The Swingers, whose 1981 single “Counting The Beat” remains one of Australia’s biggest selling singles. The Swingers split after one album and Judd put out his first solo album Private Lives in ’83 (half of which was produced by Al Kooper and released in the U.S. as The Swinger mini LP). He then released two albums in the early ‘90s with the band Schnell Fenster which featured former Enz members Nigel Griggs and Noel Crombie. Judd remained under the radar for nearly 15 years before releasing his second solo album, Mr. Phudd & His Novelty Act, followed two years later by Love Is A Moron. Judd then remained musically quiet for another six years before announcing the eminent release of his fourth solo album…
Which brings us to his 2014 album Play It Strange. While very much a modern album, Judd brings in a few old friends to help out on the album including former Enz members Wally Wilkinson (guitar), Mike Chunn (bass) and Paul (Emlyn) Crowther on drums, who all appear on the glorious “When,” making it the closest we’ll get to a reunion of the early Enz line-up. Judd handles most of the instruments on the album as well as production and engineering. To top it all off, he provides all the superb artwork in the booklet.
With Play It Strange, Judd proves that he is still one of the most creative and unique musicians in the business, crafting an album of deeply layered recordings that offer surprises even 10 spins later. Phil Judd is not an artist to be pigeonholed into any particular genre, although you can hear bits and pieces of The Beatles, early Enz, The Kinks, vaudeville, Psych Rock, Alt-Rock and Pop in his work. As I’ve said before in regards to his music, he crams more ideas into one song than most bands do in their entire career. The layers of ideas he weaves into each track can often hide the gentle and pretty melodies of songs like “When,” and “Tranquilina” but at the same time, he is a magician of sound, skillfully hiding those melodies within the framework of his mini symphonies. They reveal themselves to the listener over time and offer many rewards.
At times whimsical and weird, Play It Strange is the best album he’s released since Private Lives although it is a very different beast. There is so much to love here including “Autopilot,” “Renovators Dream,” “Salamander Man,” “Castle Of Regret,” and “Love Crusade.” There are a few songs that I still haven’t connected with, but I’m becoming quite attached to them now.
The songs, while smart, clever and riveting, can often sound sad and lonely, as if they are children without friends. These are songs of deep emotion, confusion and detachment dressed up as wildly entertaining Pop nuggets. But perhaps that is because Mr. Judd, the musician and magician, has cleverly manipulated my emotions with his aural sleight of hand… Regardless of what Judd’s intentions are, the music has a lasting effect on those who care to spend time and absorb it into their system.
40+ years on, Phil Judd is a true master at his game. Always has been, always will be.
PLAY IT STRANGE