Monday, August 24, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #24

1981 UK/US release (Chrysalis Records)Image via Wikipedia

Quickly - how many bands can you name who feature a classically trained oboist? If you said "Icehouse!" give yourself a hand.

Iva Davies, known for his mega-mullet and for crooning some for the schlockiest Top Forty drivel this side of John Oates (who co-wrote one of Icehouse's biggest American hits, 1987's "Electric Blue"), was pretty much single-handedly Icehouse. Singer, songwriter, producer, keyboardist - and, yes, able to rock an oboe - Davies took his band from Australian obscurity to worldwide MOR radio success in the late '80s. So why am I writing about a band who made their fortune peddling mainstream fluff? Because of one album and, more specifically, one fantastic song which remains one of the catchiest, most wonderful blasts of synth-pop from the New Wave era.

Icehouse began life in the late '70s under the name Flowers. Based out of Sydney, Australia, Flowers originally was a fairly straightforward bar band. Synthesizers were becoming more and more accessible at the time, and Davies took to the plinky electronic sound quickly. Flower's debut album, 1980's Icehouse, was a bright, shiny slab of synth-based, hook-filled delights, and with the major record labels searching the world over for their piece of the New Wave pie, it wasn't long before Chrysalis Records came calling with an international record deal.

One catch: the band had to change their name. Seems there was also a British band at the time calling themselves The Flowers, and Chrysalis did not want any confusion. So, in 1981, Davies and his band were introduced to the world as Icehouse, with the album of the same name remixed and re-released, with all references to the previous band name gone.

Some seeds of Icehouse's eventual wimp-rock sound are evident in a few of the album's tracks, but the strength of the three singles released from Icehouse make this album, a must-have for fans of early synth-pop: the eerily ethereal "Icehouse" (yes, they seemed to really like that word...), the shimmering "Can't Help Myself," and this week's NW4NW entry, the exuberant "We Can Get Together."

Sporting a nifty "real life vs. animation" video years before everyone oohed and ahhed over A-Ha riffing on that visual theme, and loaded with some of the catchiest hooks around, "We Can Get Together" remains one of those songs that leaves most folks scratching their heads wondering why it wasn't a massive hit. But it was roundly ignored by commercial radio, and saw minimal airplay on MTV. Icehouse seemed destined to fade from the map.

Six years later, Davies reinvented his band, grew his hair out to Michael Bolton-esque extremes, and ratcheted up the "sensitive guy" factor, and finally hit the big time with songs like "Crazy" and "Electric Blue." For those of us who knew Icehouse back when, this new Icehouse was a great disappointment. Thankfully, we can pull out that one wonderful album and remember the good version of the band.

So here is this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, Icehouse's "We Can Get Together." Enjoy!

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