Tuesday, 27 August 2013
118 If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song -The Icicle Works
Purchased : 13 January 1989
Tracks : / Hope Springs Eternal / Travelling Chest / Sweet Thursday / Up Here In The North Of England / Who Do You Want For Your Love / When You Were Mine / Evangeline / Truck Driver's Lament / Understanding Jane /Walking With A Mountain
This was purchased from Soundsearch for £4.50.
So we move into the last year of the eighties. As far as the UK singles chart goes, out of the period where I was giving it my full attention ( 1973 to roughly 1995 ) 1989 was the absolute nadir, a parade of useless charity records and mechanical so-called "pop" from the SAW stable crowned by the success of Jive Bunny. The singles I did rate usually peaked in the forties and fifties. It brought home to me that musically there was now a generation gap; what I liked and what "the kids" were buying would rarely be the same again . In terms of the charts this was exacerbated by a continuing decline in singles sales which made the Woolworth's demographic proportionally more significant. It seemed very bizarre that a middle aged sweaty loudmouth whose working career began on f**king steam trains had more of a finger on the pulse of youth than me but so it was.
On the flip side this did leave more room for catching up on older records such as this one which was nearly two years old. This was the Liverpool trio's third album, produced by yet-to-be Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and they were still trying vainly to chalk up another Top 40 hit to follow 1984's "Love Is A Wonderful Colour "; I'm wondering if they hold the record for the most attempts to follow a solitary significant hit. They were further hampered by acquiring an unwanted champion in the now ( post-Relax ban ) seriously uncool DJ Mike Read. In 1986 a kiss and tell tabloid story revealed that he liked to make love to their ( glaringly unsuitable you'd have thought ) music and every subsequent review of their records for the next year or so contained some reference to Mike Read bonking. Their failed follow-ups varied in quality but one in particular "Understanding Jane" from summer 1986 had caught my ear and it was that that drove this purchase. It might also have been a factor that I was getting a little too fond of a pub mate's girlfriend who was called Jane at this point in time.
I must admit I haven't listened to this for a long time so it will be a journey of re-discovery to some extent.
The album kicks off with the wryly-titled "Hope Springs Eternal". It's a would-be anthem calling for optimism in the face of adversity with a decent lyric but musically it's a bit ponderous and brings you right up against the central problem with their music. Ian McNabb as ever sounds like Julian Cope attempting Scott Walker and not quite making it ; if any one factor put a glass ceiling in the way of the band's prospects that was probably it but I guess when you write all the songs you call the shots as to who sings them.
"Travelling Chest" is a Big Country-ish mock heroic song about returning to your love after a dangerous enterprise although there's a seemingly incongruous reference to a picket line in the second verse. There's military drumming, banjos and massed acoustic guitars to fill out the sound. There's a similarity to the Associates' Party Fears Two in the galloping rhythm and more than a hint of Winner Takes It All in the main melody. Again its McNabb's voice that lets it down ; my wife in passing thought it was David Essex which tells you a lot.
"Sweet Thursday" pilfers the oscillating guitar sound from How Soon Is Now but uses it to good effect on a string-laden epic about a girl in danger of being left on a shelf. It might even have given them that second hit if chosen as a single.
"Up Here In The North Of England" is a state-of-the-city meditation about Liverpool prompted in some way by a student's query ( shades of Common People ) . It's fun picking out all the allusions to things like Boys From The Blackstuff and Michael Heseltine which also include a staggeringly glib reference to Heysel -"we're folklore in Turin" ( never mind , retribution's just round the corner, boys ) . The only one that stumped me initially was the name check to Pete Townshend apparently because he was fronting the government's anti-heroin campaign. Once you've done that though the musical attractions are limited with the slow grind not leading up to any real chorus though the coda is impressive.
The first few bars of "Who Do You Want For Your Love" ( another single ) with the prodding strings sound very like fellow Scousers Echo and the Bunnymen but it settles into a sturdy pop song demanding a girl makes up her mind. Broudie helps out on guitar and big piano chords underpin the chorus and again there's no obvious reason for its failure other than McNabb's unwavering boom.
"When You Were Mine " utilises a lot of strings to bolster a rather indifferent song about moving on from a past relationship and ends up sounding like a Bunnymen B-side ( circa Ocean Rain ) .
"Evangeline" is a ( not very scary ) urban legend tale about picking up a girl hitchhiker in the American South. It was one of three singles from the LP which peaked, with remarkable consistency, at numbers 52, 53 and 54. It sounds like U2's tubthumper I Will Follow ( even including glockenspiel flourishes ) slowed down a bit. It also features unobtrusive backing vocals from nineties dance diva Alison Limerick.
"Truck Driver's Lament" is a dodgy song about a self-pitying old guy coming onto a young girl he's just picked up. The verses are a grind with Chris Layhe's bass splodging away before a passable chorus and a pretty good guitar solo. Hank Williams pops up again in the lyric.
It almost segues into the one I was waiting for. " Understanding Jane" is a terrific pop song about unrequited love framed by what sounds like a great long lost Sex Pistols backing track ( perhaps they were influenced by all the "ten years on" retrospection going on that summer ). McNabb actually copes quite well with the pace and it is their best song. A re-mixed version was released to promote a post-split retrospective in '92 but didn't chart.
That leaves "Walking With A Mountain" which largely drops the guitars in favour of synths and electronic percussion for an unfocussed ballad that sounds a bit like mid-80s Human League without the girls. It's not wholly successful but was worth a go.
This is actually a slightly better LP than I remembered although I'm still disinclined to buy any of their other LPs. The original trio made just one more LP before Layhe and Sharrock quit, ( the latter becoming a much-in demand drummer for hire who is currently in Beady Eye after being the last in the long line of Oasis sticksmen ) and Beggar's Banquet took the opportunity to drop them. McNabb released one more album under the group name then became a modest-selling solo artist finally squeezing into the Top 40 again ( just ) with his last single in 2005.