For the record, Icehouse began as Flowers. For its first Anglo-American album release, the Sydney, Australia band renamed itself after the title of the Flowers LP, subtracted one cut, remixed and resequenced it. Icehouse’s debut LP effectively mates emotional tension with the streamlined efficiency of modern synthesizer outfits. “Icehouse” and “Can’t Help Myself,” in particular, exploit the contrast between smooth surfaces and frontman Iva Davies’ anxious singing. Despite inconsistent material, this is a promising start.
Unfortunately, Davies let it all go to his head on Primitive Man, hiding the underrated band and declaring allegiance to empty stylishness. By emphasizing the elegance in his artful compositions and restricting his passions to poses, Davies ends up with slick, pretty product that neither demands nor encourages listener involvement. (It does, however, contain the global hit single, “Hey Little Girl,” a remarkable Roxy Music simulation.)
That song, two others from Primitive Man, plus two new tracks of forgettable roaring rock comprise the Fresco EP, evidently issued to capitalize on the band’s sudden commercial emergence.
Sidewalk is a tedious two-voiced exercise: fake Bryan Ferry (hey — doing it once may be cute, but two albums in a row is lame!) and histrionic guitar rock; occasionally the two are blended together in a misbegotten vision of Roxy Metal. Melt this sucker down.
While retaining the mannered Ferry imitation in spots, Measure for Measure adds an equally artificial version of David Bowie (circa Lodger) and drops Sidewalk‘s over-energized sandtrap. “No Promises” is the atmospheric pop hit (one of three cuts on which ex-Japan drummer Steve Jansen plays; Eno receives an all-LP credit for backing vocals, treated piano and keyboards), but other songs are more memorable. (Most are less.) Smooth, crafty and pointless.
The unfocused but blatantly commercial Man of Colours tries a little of this (ersatz Roxy, imitation Bowie) and a little of that (semi-fake Hall and Oates, a halfhearted stab at Billy Idol’s neighborhood). Davies’ voice briefly resembles Barry Manilow’s on the mega-hit single, “Crazy” (which also appears in two needless bonus remixes on the CD), a hollow slab of romantic melodrama. Oates co-wrote and sings on “Electric Blue,” which sounds like an INXS discard.
Great Southern Land is a ten-song compilation named for the song Icehouse contributed to the Young Einstein soundtrack; the CD and cassette add a dance mix of “No Promises.”