Friday, 25 May 2012
79 Man Of Colours - Icehouse
Purchased : March 1988
Tracks : Crazy / Electric Blue / Nothing Too Serious / Man Of Colours / Heartbreak Kid / The Kingdom / My Obsession / Girl In The Moon / Anybody's War / Sunrise
This was purchased in Manchester as soon as it came out.
"Man Of Colours" was Icehouse's fifth album and for me should have been titled "Pacific Crossing". It's one of those LPs every music fan dreads, when an adored band jettison everything you love most about them and embrace a new style, to which you can only respond with distaste, in pursuit of a broader audience ( in most cases, as here, the Yanks). For the purposes of this blog I'll be listening to the whole album for only the second time since I bought it so it's probably the right time for a re-appraisal.
The sound of the album is due to the US breakthrough of their fourth album "Measure For Measure" ( which we'll cover in due course ) and its lead-off single "No Promises". The latter only made number 72 in the UK and the LP didn't chart at all so it's not too surprising that they changed tack and went for the bigger market.
In hindsight the single "Crazy" ( which gave them a second Top 40 hit here on re-release in February 1988 ) gives a good warning about what to expect, with its echoey power chords , cavernous drums and screechy keyboards, the MTV power ballad par excellence. It's not a bad song with a tuneful chorus and Iva Davies chucking in the usual Ferry-isms , it just lacks that subtle, slightly sinister edge that they had assimilated from their European influences. In the video Davies ( now sporting a hideous shoulder-length mullet ) enters the room of a girl, sees posters of the band in previous guise and retreats. What message was he sending out to his old fans there ?
"Electric Blue" was another big hit in the U.S. ( and a near-miss over here). It was co-written by and features John Oates ( the short one with the 'tache ) and is a shamelessly commercial piece of AOR pop rock that could easily have found its way to Belinda Carlisle or Cher. Lyrically it's a straightforward tale of obsession ( with the odd phrase recycled from personal favourite "Goodnight Mr Matthews" from the second LP ) . I didn't like it much at the time but hearing it now it's actually aged quite well with a very strong melodic structure.
"Nothing Too Serious" ,an account of the morning after a wild night, is a fast-paced rocker halfway between Huey Lewis and the News' The Heart Of Rock And Roll and Glenn Frey's The Heat Is On . Davies gives it his best shot at a rock growl ( only half convincing ) and the blaring Fairlight horns and obligatory sax solo give it some gusto but it's just not my cup of tea.
The title track does come across as something of a sop to older fans being a slow ballad about an ageing artist with some delicate oboe and synth although it's the hazy synthscape of Drive or Take My Breath Away rather than say Ultravox or Simple Minds. It's a relief from the rock stomp but a rather soporific song.
The side closes with the hollow epic "Heartbreak Kid " with its hackneyed third person lyric about a gunman brought down by a woman. With the heavy drumming and ponderous piano chords it sounds like a Phil Collins album track and Rob Kretschmer's tedious guitar solo doesn't save it.
Side Two begins with the likeable "The Kingdom" about a woman relying on her inner world like a less sinister Angie Baby. Davies returns to his normal plaintive tones and the chorus is tuneful. However the similarity of the backing track to Bryan Ferry's Don't Stop The Dance is very obvious.
"My Obsession" is the sort of straightforward pop rock number that could have soundtracked a Brat Pack movie from the likes of John Parr and John Waite. It's perfectly listenable with some nice keyboard work but it's so uninspired lyrically it could almost be a Diane Warren song.
"Girl In The Moon" is just horrible, a drum heavy piece of bombast with no real tune and some of the worst lyrics of Davies's career - " Put on my Cadillac boots and my magazine jeans but the colours don't rhyme. " The nagging guitar is vaguely reminiscent of The Cure's similarly enervating One Hundred Years.
"Anybody's War " is another third person narrative this time about a feuding couple that Davies clumsily tries to turn into an Everyman anthem - "People just like you and I ". It starts promisingly enough with a Moroder-ish synth pulse and a quiet verse but then all the ugly bombast of drums and slashing guitar come in to amplify the shouted chorus and it becomes an earache.
"Sunrise" does boast an interesting lyric about the bombing of Hiroshima , some nice Japanese keyboard motifs and a virtually empty middle eight ( possibly copped from Kate Bush's Breathing ). On the downside it's got yet another big bawled chorus which ruins all the atmosphere built up in the verses.
As I suspected would happen this LP doesn't sound as bad to me now as it did then. The softening of my anti-American bias would ironically begin with a single released just a couple of months after this but that's for future posts. This did become Icehouse's biggest seller but it was a short-lived triumph with grunge just around the corner and their next LP ( and their few subsequent efforts) failed to break out of Australia. That they remain uninvestigated by me shows how the disappointment has lingered.