“Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly),” which leads off this Liverpool trio’s debut album, is a brilliant pop single filled with sparkling guitars, a hook-laden chorus and Chris Sharrock’s surprisingly powerful, creative drumming. Unfortunately, nothing else on the LP is nearly as good. It’s typical. Icicle Works’ prolific career has been extremely inconsistent, with only brief flashes of similar inspired creativity.
The Small Price of a Bicycle has its moments of listenable (if ponderous) guitar-pop, but is marred by singer/guitarist Robert Ian McNabb’s self-important lyrics and weak melodies.
As six of its seven songs also appear on the band’s first two albums, Seven Singles Deep is an unessential compilation of two years’ worth of A-sides. (The cassette, however, adds seven bonus tracks.)
In a pivotal year for the group, Icicle Works issued three new singles: “Understanding Jane” is the band’s best-ever song, a terse and spunky piece of singalong rock. “Who Do You Want for Your Love?” is fine, unassuming pop, but “Up Here in the North of England,” McNabb’s verbose contemplation on the cultural gaps between English regions, is bad, verbose pomp. While all three songs turned up on the next album, the 12-inch EPs are worth investigating for their non-LP tracks. Understanding Jane has three live versions of Bicycle songs; Who Do You Want for Your Love? has a good live “Understanding Jane” and not-so-good live covers of the Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go”) and the Doors (“Roadhouse Blues”); Up Here in the North of England has stately, occasionally handsome studio covers (with clarinet and saxophone) of songs by Robert Wyatt, the Band and Spirit.
His regrettable vocal resemblance to Neil Diamond and Anthony Newley notwithstanding, McNabb sounds confident and mature on If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy, an album of increased sophistication and ambition, skillfully produced by Ian Broudie. The quality of “Understanding Jane” and “Who Do You Want for Your Love?” is made even more conspicuous by the leaden tracks which surround them. (For casual sleeve scanners who may recognize the titles, “When You Were Mine” and “Walking with a Mountain” are not covers.) The tape adds two; the CD four.
All but one-quarter (“Whipping Boy”) of the 12-inch/CD Numb EP turned up on the terrible Blind, a mixed-up mainstream mush of loud rock, quiet soul and gutless funk. If there were any worthwhile songs, the stylistic blur wouldn’t be a problem, but the variety does nothing to sell the weak material. (The only semi-good song, “High Time,” is also on Numb.) The Little Girl Lost EP adds a second album track and two new items, only one of which (the folky “One Time”) is noteworthy.