Over 35 years ago Phil Judd arrived on the New Zealand music scene, armed with a bunch of songs he'd written with his Split Enz bandmate Tim Finn. For almost five years Judd added the eccentric edge to that band's songs, surrounding the beautiful melodies with arrangements that, more than likely, played against the standard "popular music" formula. In fact, early Split Enz were worlds away from the somewhat conventional pop machine that they would become in the early '80s (by which time Judd was long gone). Over three decades later, Judd continues to play the same game, which has been his saving grace (for music critics and his legion of fans) and his fatal flaw (commercially). Love Is a Moron, his third release in two years (including the mostly instrumental album from the Unth!nkables), is yet another slice of musical brilliance that draws from his past but remains focused on the future. While not an album geared for the charts, Love Is a Moron is a release with so many layers that it will take the listener multiple listens to peel some of them away in order to find the Tootsie Roll middle. One of Judd's many strengths is his bottomless well of creativity, which he uses to paint and manipulate these aural pictures to perfection. At times vulnerable and dark, and then other times playful and uplifting, Love Is a Moron's songs are so crammed with musical textures and ideas that he could have saved more than half of them for future albums!
On each of the album's 14 tracks, for every melodic hook you discover on first listen, there are at least three other counter-melodies buried in the mix that will be discovered during further spins. In the past, Judd has been a master of the melodic bridge and middle eight, some more hook-filled than the actual chorus, and he certainly doesn't let down his guard here. From the album's openers, "Hanging by a Thread" (very Schnell Fenster-ish) and "Putty in My Hands," to the album's playful closer, "Vixen," Love Is a Moron is an album full of strengths with very few weaknesses. If you're looking for any sign of the Phil Judd who created those early Enz classics, you'll find him all over the place here, most notably on "Remind Me to Forget," "Electric Elf," "Painting Pictures with Words," "Can of Worms," and the title track. Elsewhere, he has his feet firmly on the ground, embracing his influences while looking forward. The opening moments of "Shy" vaguely resemble the Stones' "Angie," but by the end of the song it has become a hauntingly different beautiful beast. "Abattoir of Love" may not be a power pop song, but most bands of that genre would kill for some of these guitar hooks. "Nobody Home" begins with twisted harmonies (a Judd trademark) and then becomes one of the album's most immediately appealing tracks. Love Is a Moron contains many audible treats and they all will reveal themselves the deeper you let yourself be absorbed into Phil Judd's musical world. Like a carnival of sound, Love Is a Moron is meaningful, full of meaning and lots of fun.