First published on 29 Aug 2011. Updated on 2 Sep 2011.
are undergoing a renaissance at the moment. Iva Davies has reactivated the name, pulled a line up together and is getting out on the nation’s stages and festivals, the out-of-print back catalogue is getting a remaster and a repackage (beginning with the mighty Icehouse by Flowers earlier this year), and this career-spanning retrospective gathers 30 singles that chart the development of Davies & Co from Melbourne Bowie copyists to chart-topping superstars.
You’ll know just about everything on this two-disc collection, so ingrained are they in the national musical psyche: ‘Electric Blue’, ‘Hey, Little Girl’, ‘We Can Get Together’, ‘Crazy’, ‘Man of Colours’, ‘Don’t Believe Anymore’ and, of course, the still-amazing ‘Great Southern Land’. That last is worth making a point about, by the way: for a band that were all about European synthpop sophistication (Davies was creating most the early 80 albums more or less by himself with a Fairlight music computer while pub rock was in full flight in Australia), the songs were very Australian in tone. ‘Great Southern Land’ is the most obvious, but then you have the (admittedly, ill-fated) Code Blue album in 1990, which was entirely based around Australian characters – including, 21 years too early to cash in on the Underbelly wave, Tilly Devine (‘Miss Divine’).
This chronological run through the band’s material shows something interesting: while 1987 was the band’s commercial highwater mark (five top 30 singles, for freak’s sake) it’s also where the band stopped being innovators and started chasing trends. The off-the-shelf synth sounds and gated snares on ‘Nothing Too Serious’ are a giveaway, and from then on the returns pretty much diminish through the AOR ‘Touch the Fire’ and ‘Jimmy Dean’. That said, if Davies spent much of his early career wanting to be Bowie, it’s worth pointing out that ‘Big Fun’ sounds like a huge rip off of ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’, or would do if it hadn’t been released seven years beforehand. Lawyers, start your engines.
After Code Blue there are a few dribs and drabs charting Icehouse’s decline into hibernation while Davies became a composer and soundtrack creator (and the all-cover 1995 effort The Berlin Tapes is, wisely, ignored), while the DVD is a visual celebration of Davies’ increasingly luxuriant mullet through a series of arty setups. You’ll have the chance to refamiliarise yourself with the entire back catalogue in the coming years, but for now this should remind you of an underrated period of Australian musical history.
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