Monday, 10 May 2010

It's Always Cold Inside The Icehouse...

... though the rivers never freeze."

Thus begins the first track off Sydney, Australia-based band Flowers' debut 1980 album, Icehouse. The track, also called "Icehouse," turned out to be quite the blessing in disguise - after Iva Davies and company released the album, they found out that there was already a Scottish band called The Flowers (don't you hate it when that happens?). So they renamed themselves Icehouse (named after a particularly drafty flat Iva had lived in that seemed to always be freezing), and the album is now known as Flowers. Got all that?

Formed in 1977, Flowers - wait, sorry, Icehouse - consisted of Iva Davies (a talented multi-instrumentalist, he was (and still is, I reckon) fluid with guitar, bass, keyboards and - get this - the oboe), Keith Welsh (bass), Michael Hoste (keyboards), and Don Brown (drums). They played the pub circuit in Sydney zealously, performing covers of their musical heroes, such as Bowie, T-Rex, and Roxy Music. After having amassed a rather large following, Brown was replaced on the drums by John Lloyd, the drummer for Paul Kelly and his band at the time, the Dots. Flowers got themselves signed to a record label, released a corker of a first album, changed their name to Icehouse, and proceeded to become one of the most popular Australian bands of their time.

After their tour promoting the new album, Icehouse unfortunately split up, relegating Iva Davies to recording the follow-up album, Primitive Man, largely on his own.

But I'm not going to talk about Icehouse post-Flowers (though I will probably do so sometime in the not so distant future). Instead, I'd like to focus on a couple of songs off of that legendary debut recording that, to this day, I still find to be absolute masterpieces.

Whoosh. Masterpieces. That's not necessarily a word that should just be thrown about like so much confetti. But I'd like to share with you, dear reader, two songs off of Icehouse - oops, I meant Flowers - that are stunning in their rousing melding of moody atmospherics, introspective lyrics, and general rocking-out-edness. (And yes, I know that is not a word. But I like it.)

First off, the song known as "Icehouse." It's always nice, I think, to hear a song that delivers on the promise of its title. Sure enough, the song itself is just so damn chilly and desolate, it almost makes me shiver when I listen to it. Beginning with just the faintest of cymbals tchk-tchk-tchking over a sinister synth loop, it grows in volume and stature as Davies' voice, mildly filtered through some sort of distorting mechanism, joins in and begins to tell the rather spooky tale of a young woman waiting and waiting and waiting for her true love to come to her - though it's bound to be quite a long wait indeed. Davies sings:
"And now she's dreaming of a new love
And she hopes he'll be there soon
She says she's got no time for winter nights
She doesn't notice as the days grow colder
She can't remember getting any older
There's no love inside the icehouse..."
It's a powerful song from start to finish - multi-layered and menacing, with just the right ratio of cold electronics and amped up guitar toward the end. Does our heroine find her new love? I don't think she does, and one thing "Icehouse" does perfectly is to convey her hopelessness through the music. We feel what she feels, and frankly it feels quite cold indeed. Longtime 80's video director Russell Mulcahy (whose bizarre 1980's monster flick Razorback was scored by Mr Davies) directed the video for "Icehouse," with his trademark slapdash imagery - and it rather works, I think. This is the director who also filmed Duran Duran's "Wild Boys" - see if you can spot any resemblance!

Second up is the rousing and rollicking track "Sister." Gosh, this is such a fun song to listen to! Imagine, if you will, a cyborg pieced together from the best bits of Icehouse's heroes that they used to cover in Sydney pubs back when they first started playing. You've got some Roxy Music in there; along with T. Rex, Bowie, and Ian Durie. There are a lot of influences coming through in "Sister," and the fact that the song itself reads as something of a science-fiction story doesn't hurt matters, either. Based around the conceit of a robot woman programmed to love and be loved, "Sister" is a blast, with its mixture of lyrics concerning flesh-and-blood relations and the clinical examples of the circuitry of a humanoid replicant. I find myself thinking of Darryl Hannah's "basic pleasure model" character from Blade Runner, Pris.
"Behind the scanners and tapes
She's programmed for perfection
But sometimes simple mistakes
Get by without detection
Her figures need correction!"
I wonder if the model Iva Davies is singing about is as dangerous as Pris! The music is fast, the keyboards are flawless and exciting, and it's probably the closest to punk that Icehouse ever got. Awesome track. Here is Davies and company performing it live in 1981. Enjoy, friends!

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