on May 11, 2008
Last Summer of 2007, I was tidying up my room, making my bed, while watching Classic VH1 (The Real VH1, not that thing now calling itself VH1), trying to catch the videos I used to watch when videos were novel and original. As I was getting my bed together, a familiar image appeared on the screen on the other side of my room: Autumnal leaves falling around a white background. Then I heard a very familiar melody of a kind of twangy guitar, accompanied by a decisive drum and bass. I saw the title, "The Icicle Works" and "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" and I had one of those, "Oh, yeah!" moments that we Gen-Xers have when re-experiencing a memory from our past. I immediately remembered the song, and it felt like, for about 4 minutes, it was the Spring/Summer of 1983 (good year for music in general)again. "We are, We are, We are but your children!..." who doesn't know that chorus?...one of the best choruses from the 1980s. And a still pretty good video, though Ian Mcnabb might disagree...its simplicity is one of its strengths. I totally remembered this song, and thought, "Where did they go after this? Another one-hit wonder? I wonder what the rest of the album sounded like? I got my answer earlier this Winter.
The novelty about listening to this album was that I hadn't heard anything else from them since "Birds Fly" in 1983. I couldn't even tell you when the last time was that I heard this song on the radio, or saw that video ('til last summer), so it was totally an experiment buying a deluxe remaster with 24 songs I had never before heard. After listening to Disc 1 my interpretation was simple: An Excellent album unquestionably! Probably a "Classic" since, to me, a "Classic" is an album that, if listened to 25 years later, feels like a brand new recording, or retains the timeframe from when it was created, while still being relevant, informing, entertaining, and memorable in the present time. Beautiful, powerful arrangements coupled with lyrics that can only be described as "literary" and "Poetry." Ian Mcnabb's lyrics come across as writing straight out of a book of confessional, philosophical 19th cenutry poetry. One can read the booklet of lyrics and glean a lot of emotion and power from it w/out even hearing the music -- but what an excellent unity that comes from the two, along with Mcnabb's flawless, emotive, flexible vocals (accompanied at times by Chris Layhe's "bass-like" vocals). The greatest asset of this whole team is CHRIS SHARROCK ON DRUMS...I don't think I've ever heard drums with this much power, intensity, and personality recorded in this way. My new list of favorite drummers is as follows: Peter "Budgie" Clarke (Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Creatures), Clem Burke (Blondie, etc.), Mick Fleetwood (The Mac), Myron Grombacher (Pat Benatar, etc.), Don Henley (Eagles, great at keeping rhythm)and now Chris Sharrock (unbelievable thumping!) For those in the know -- Chris Layhe's bass rivals Steven Severin's (haven't heard his comparison ever!); as does Sharrock's to Budgie's drumming.
To me, after hearing all 25 tracks (by the way, there is not one bad track on either CD), "Bird's Fly" is still their best recorded song; but there are many others to like and love: My favorite songs after "Birds..." may be "Reaping the Rich Harvest" (bass is great), "Dragonfly Flies" ('80s' in the best possible sense), "Lovers' Day" (w/ a very "celtic" sound, and a drive that equals U2's "Sunday Bloddy Sunday" ...it's worth noting that a few times you find U2 and the Ices sounding remarkably similar to each other, which just may have been an interesting coincidence in 1983-84), "Cauldron of Love" (why wasn't this a single in America?!), and "Nirvana" which very fittingly ends the album proper. The two singles in '83 and '84 were both great, but I'm surprised the company stopped there...the booklet explains how they were totally underratted at this time, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now here's the freaky part: The second disc is better than disc 1! The original album was very much cloaked together in a storyline of LOVE. The album for the most part tackles love, though not in the typical "hearts and flowers" syrupy sense. A very thematically-unified collection. Disc 2 gives you songs that are totally Punk ("All Is Right" is the definition of a Punk Rock song sonically...if someone asked me what the "Punk/New Wave" sound is, I'd play them this song...Freakin' Great Song!), New Wave, Power-Pop, Jazzy, and "Eagles/America/Kansas" acoustic. It's a shame the excellent packaging does not include the lyrics for the additional 12 songs that were available either as B-sides to singles or never released on CD before -- it would've been like owning a book of poetry as much as an album. I'll put it this way, I never listen to Disc 1 w/out hearing Disc 2 as well. This debut should've been a double album w/out question; especially since the B-sides and additional cuts deal with war and politics, personal melancholy, fantasy, and emotions that aren't on disc 1. And, plus, the songs are just SO GOOD! You'll hear songs and say, "My God! Why wasn't this on the album?! Why wasn't this a single?! This is just as good as the other songs on the album! This one is even better than that song on the album!" Of course, there was probably no chance that a debut album from a young -- though professionally-experienced -- group would be allowed to release 20 songs to the public (too expensive and too much of a risk), but for those who would've embraced it, it would have been a phenomenon. People would've still been talking about it, and comparing other bands' debuts to it.
When I listen to it, this is how I hear the sequencing in my head:
Chop The Tree
All Is Right
Love Is A Wonderful Colour
When Winter Lasted Forever
Reaping The Rich Harvest
As The Dragonfly Flies
In The Cauldron Of Love
Mountain Comes To Mohammed (flashes of The Banshees' "Spellbound" on this one)
Out Of Season
The Devil On Horseback
A Factory In The Desert
Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)
The only problem w/ owning this album is that (I'm surmising), based on the singles I've heard since after this birthing period, this CLASSIC album represents the ALPHA & OMEGA of the Icicle Works best music. Many talk about how their sound changed and or lost the intensity of power that so many of the fans embraced and desired. Hence, as a possible double album, can you imagine what harsh criticism would've been elicited afterwards had the next album been as some people say it was? At least, then, people could've had at least one great album of 20 songs to cherish. This deluxe edition is the next best thing to having that double album. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! IT'S WORTH EVERY PENNY! ALSO, IT'S THE STANDARD BY WHICH ALL FUTURE REMASTERED CDS SHOULD BE COMPARED...YOUR EARS WILL NOT KNOW WHAT HIT THEM!
My only regret is that I didn't purchase the 3 Disc edition of this album, w/ all of the sleeves and LP artwork reproduced. However, this double disc is a great compilation with good pictures and info.
My only other regret regarding this release is that the Icicle Works 1st independent 6-song cassette release, ASCENDING, wasn't included w/ either the 2CD or 3CD Box set ("When Winter Lasted Forever" was one of the tracks from that cassette)...nor was the B-side to their first ever released single ("Nirvana", on their own made up label), "Sirocco" attached to this collection as well. Too bad...it would've been great to have had the whole gestation period (1981-84) included in one neat package. Maybe something will happen in the Future...
on June 26, 2013
Yes, this album is a masterpiece of guitar rock that transcends the decade it was released, easily one of the top 50 of the 1980's. maybe even top 20, but that depends on your tastes. These guys were anthemic and heartfelt, and while similar bands were rocketed to the top (U2, etc), Icicle Works were relegated, unfairly, to the one hit wonder pile due to the success of Birds Fly. This album is so much more than that one song, and this special edition's second disc of B sides and rarities is almost as great as the original album! Really, it is. I won't go into individual track details, suffice to say that you should own this.