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Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: icehouse

Icehouse – Primitive Man

I remember buying this on vinyl back on 1982, and hoping Icehouse had kept up the rocking new wave, borderline hard rock they did on their debut. Nope, no sirree. This is synth heavy, Linn drum-machine laden and very representative of the era it was released. Only one song here really rocks, and overseas releases didn’t even include it, and that’s Break These Chains.

The band that recorded the debut no longer existed, and though John Lloyd was still part of the band, he didn’t drum on this, and it’s all via  machine. More than any other record, this one could be labelled a Davies solo project. Davies still thinks he’s some lovechild of Ferry and Bowie here, and he never really sounded like himself on a record till Big Wheel, and that’s perhaps debatable too.

Bare-faced influences aside, Primitive Man grew on me. Apart from the obvious songs that were released as singles, there are tracks that have a slightly eerie edge even if Davies hadn’t intended such a thing. More than any other Icehouse album, this one goes into mystic places, if only briefly. The whole album has an “abandoned” feel to it, like it’s the soundtrack to empty, open spaces where humans no longer exist, and it’s not just Great Southern Land that conveys that. There’s only one filler track here and that’s Mysterious Thing, which sounds like a B-side. The remainder of the record varies for dreamy to hard rocking. It’s a widely ranging thing, but held back by production excesses and Davies’ imitating his favourite performers.

There’s a case to be made this is Icehouse’s second best record, though Big Wheel may have something to say there.

Choice cuts: Trojan Blue, Break these Chains, Street Cafe

howlers yo

Icehouse – Man of Colours

Of course, this record was Icehouse‘s commercial peak, the one that spawned megahits like Electric Blue and Crazy. Oddly, these two songs are among the lesser tracks on the record.

On Man of Colours, Iva Davies manages to sound like Once Upon a Time era Simple Minds while still hanging on to his David Bowie kink. He definitely was not shy about wearing his influences openly. Anyhow, the record is full of big 80s synths and drums and if anything is a definitive product of its time, this would be it. If you were wondering what that “new wave” thang is you keep hearing about, check this album out – it’s a key indicator.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a sequel to Measure for Measure. As I said in the review for that record, Man of Colours is pretty much more of the same, though in its defence, it is a tad rockier. It is also a better record, with marginally less filler. The album highlight would be the dreamy The Kingdom, which seems like a sequel to Measure for Measure‘s Angel Street, and Davies is probably singing about the same woman here. The same woman caught in the same blah limbo, anyway. Perhaps she’s the Hey Little Girl from Primitive Man, too.

Other choice cuts include the charging Nothing Too Serious and Anybody’s War. The title track could be Icehouse’s most atmospheric outing, reminding me a bit of the first album‘s tack-on instrumental Paradise Lost. Other grand tracks include the single My Obsession and the hazy record closer Sunrise.

Icehouse reached the recording artist apex with this record, taking Australia and parts of the world by storm. They would never again scale such heights. The following album Code Blue is a bland and just there record that died in the charts and Big Wheel which followed later…well, nobody’s ever heard of it.

Davies has sporadically kept the Icehouse name alive, releasing an album of covers, music for an opera and other bits and pieces but for mine, he effectively brought the band’s thing to a logical end with Man of Colours.

man of colours

Icehouse – Measure For Measure

This is record number four for Icehouse. It sounds absolutely nothing like anything that came before it. In fact, the evolution of this band’s sound from the nervy hard rock/new wave of their first album, to the “bottled” sounding fake-rock of Sidewalk is all quite amazing.

Measure For Measure is all smooth textures, round edges and dreamy rhythms. In fact, it’s Iva Davies approximation of Roxy Music’s Avalon and Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream ’81-82-83-84.

Keyboards are front and centre here, and the music tries its best to float by on some ethereal current. It works sometimes, especially on the opening track Paradise, and other album cuts like Angel Street and No Promises. It falls flat too namely on tracks like Baby You’re So Strange and Lucky Me. Strangely, the B-side to Baby You’re So Strange, Too Late Now, is probably one of the best things Icehouse have recorded. They wisely included it on the CD release of the album.

But it’s intriguing listening to Mr Big, then going back in time six years and comparing it to the first album’s Fatman, which I think are two connected songs. The change in sound…talk about rapid evolution.

Anyhow, Icehouse were to hit the big time with their next record, Man of Colours, which is more or less a continuation of this. This isn’t a bad record, but it’s certainly an 80s relic. Big drums and big synths. And there’s a little too much trying to be Bryan Ferry or David Bowie (or Simple Minds) here. Iva Davies never quite did sound like himself on a record.

measure for measure

Flowers – Icehouse

This was the first, and by some way, the best album this band ever released. And the thing is, they actually were a band when they put out this record. One could argue successive releases were little more than vehicles for Iva Davies. If you put this album next to Sidewalk, surely you’d agree. Sidewalk has its moments but moments they remain.

Shortly after it came out, the band changed their name to Icehouse and the rest is history. The US release of this album swapped Can’t Help Myself and We Can Get Together around, so this review is about the original Australian LP release.

There’s eleven cuts on this album (fourteen if you buy the CD) and in my mind, they are eleven of the most recognisable and significant songs ever put out. I was there when this album was released, and it’s remained a staple for over thirty years. As with many albums of this era, Side One rules the roost. And it’s arguably the greatest Side One ever cut. Every song is a gem, from the opening bass keyboard gloom of the the title track to the closing riffs of Walls. In between, We Can Get Together, Fatman and Sister are timeless classics. Never will you find five songs that work so well together. Side Two, like most records of the time, isn’t quite up to the atmospheric heights of the first side.

It opens with the biggest hit, Can’t Help Myself, a song that sounds a little out of place compared to the heavy guitar and synth churn of the album. Skins and Nothing to Do are throwaway, but after three decades of listens, they’re as familiar to me as the sun rising. Sons is lyrically deeper than most of the album, and this isn’t the first time Davies would try to make important statements with his music. Boulevarde is a great rocker and Not My Kind closes out the original record with anger. The CD release adds three more songs, two of which, Send Somebody and All The Way, are awkward sounding. But Paradise Lost, an instrumental, wouldn’t been out of place on the original record.

This record is usually classified as new wave or synth rock. Strange, as it has a strong and powerful guitar sound. There’s actually power chords in a few places, like on Fatman and Not My Kind. It’s a lot heavier than you’d think for the era, and certainly heavier than anything Icehouse ever subsequently released. It’s borderline hard rock.

All up, it’s an amazing album which was easily the best thing Icehouse/Iva Davies ever put out…even if he does try to sound like David Bowie through most of the record.


Icehouse – Sidewalk

By the time Sidewalk was released, Icehouse were down to two of the original members, Iva Davies and John Lloyd. In fact, I wonder how much input Lloyd had into this album as the majority of the drumming is via the agency of a machine and not human. Either way, it’s the last album he did with Icehouse.

Iva Davies discovered the Fairlight CMI for this record and as such, keyboards take front and centre. Par for the course for the era. The guitars on most of the tracks sound processed or “tunnelled”. Listen to Taking This Town for example.

Critics hated this album and you can see why. It is a mess. Side One is a totally different kettle of fish to Side Two, which was also par for the course for this era. Side One contains four very fine tracks in This Time (album highlight), Someone Like You, Stay Close Tonight and Don’t Believe Anymore. All great tracks that stand up after thirty years. Side Two is a dreary affair in contrast, with the last two tracks originating from a film score Davies did. Both of them, jittery, scratchy things, sound tacked on to the album. The only high point would be Dusty Pages (which had a wonderfully miserable video).

An uneven mess. And the drum machine/programming gives the whole thing an artificial feel. Very much a dated album.