Review by Brian McGowan
Thanks to the enduring music of the classic rock years, back catalogues continue to be a major source of revenue for the major labels. None more so than that of Australia’s Icehouse.
Such is the legendary status of Iva Davies and his band that the “Bowie/Roxy wannabe” accusations which once afflicted them seem now to belong to another time and place entirely.
The 2002 remasters opened to mixed reviews, with audiophiles loudly regretting the loss of dynamic balance, suggesting it had been sacrificed on the altar of volume. Me? I didn’t notice, hi-fi philistine that I am. And anyway, Iva Davies’s songs transcend all that technical stuff.
Now in the Universal stable, the band’s albums have again been repackaged, here with additional tracks, bundled with extensive DVD recordings. The focus is on the groundbreaking Primitive Man, the one that gained them respect and credibility, and on Man Of Colours, the one that made the true worldwide breakthrough 25 years ago.
The first‘s opening track, ‘Great Southern Land’ was a sprawling, expansive piece, essentially Davies’s ode to the land of his birth. It marked him out as a convincing composer, capable of pushing past the boundaries of the catchy pop song for which he had hitherto been known.
There’s still room for chart troubling electro pop though. ‘Street Café’ and ‘Hey Little Girl’ are brightly dressed slices of urban drama, where the ornate narratives belie the enormous inventiveness of the music. All three were released as singles and became Top Forty hits in Australia.
The accompanying DVD is jam packed with stuff…interviews, TV appearances and a whole live concert, recorded in Germany, one of the first European countries to recognise the band’s talent.
Man Of Colours features the band’s two biggies, ‘Crazy’ and ‘Electric Blue’, the latter written with John (Hall &) Oates, with whom the band had recently toured. Both climbed the dizzying heights of rock charts everywhere, firmly establishing the band – particularly Davies – as world class players.
There are two great ’Crazy’ remixes and an extended mix of ’Electric Blue’ among the bonus tracks, but the real bonus is the addition of ’Touch The Fire’. This was a previously unreleased track that opened the band’s 1989 ’Best Of…’ album, combining powerful images and memorable music with feeling and precision. It‘s full of ringing, cascading guitars, and is fuelled by the urgency and drive that propels the best Melodic Rock. The track was deservedly released as a single the same year, charting in Oz at unlucky 13, getting no higher.
The DVD crams in two live concerts. The first, the almost legendary “Live At The Ritz”, recorded 1988 in the Ritz Ballroom, New York, as the band began to make their name in the States. It was shown live on US Cable TV. Likewise ‘Live In Melbourne‘, again recorded in 1988. This gig aired on MTV, back when the channel had real influence.
Of course, any 34 year old recordings will show signs of their age and these are no exception. Thankfully, the glistening atmospherics and gentle grandiosity of Davies‘s songs make date-stamps redundant.
Primitive Man: 9/10
Man of Colours: 9/10