Leading the three-man Swingers up from Down Under, ex-Split Enz guitarist/composer Phil Judd rejected his earlier, convoluted melodicism for a still-quirky but more compact, abrasive approach, with phenomenal results. Judd’s eccentric mental mixmaster spews out the clichés of mid-’60s Anglo-rock (Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks) wackily updated, unreal and askew. His Dave Davies-as-young-schizo vocals (often abetted by gibberish falsettos) deliver lyrics almost too rock-song-banal to believe, surrounded by twangy guitars that resemble so many layers of electrified rubber bands. (The band performed selections from both of their LPs in the 1982 movie Starstruck, the soundtrack album of which contains Swingers tracks not found on Counting the Beat.)
Following the Swingers, Judd made a solo album, the Australian-only Private Lives, partially produced by Al Kooper. Although the cover is nicely surreal, the American EP that draws five songs from it shows no audible vestiges of his once-eccentric outlook, instead offering forgettable missives from the mainstream. Ironically, the album’s six superior tracks — deemed unfit for American consumption (and co-produced by Judd) — reveal that the old goofball still has a few aces up his sleeve.
A bunch of years later, Judd made an unexpected and quite welcome return as the leader of Schnell Fenster, a quartet that includes old Enz-mates Nigel Griggs (bass) and Noel Crombie (drums). This overlooked gem finds Mr. J as appealingly warped as ever, playing the excitable boy to the hilt on askew anthems and fractured funk. Spooky, funny and haunting.