The Best of icehouseMashing up Roxy Music, Bowie, Gary Numan – with a twist of Mike Scott or Talk Talk – Icehouse has made its own sound. These singles show that Iva Davies is one of the catchiest songwriters to come out of Australia in the last 25 years.

Label: Repertoire
Time: 20 tracks / 78 mins.

I came across Icehouse, probably like most listeners, through the single "Hey Little Girl" from their 1982 album Primitive Man (a.k.a. Lost in Motion). Catching the musical zeitgeist, with its programming, catchy synth fills and unforgettable hooks, it added a funkiness rarely heard in synth-pop. That song remained one of my favourite singles of the decade and I got the album as soon as I could.

Happily, it was more of the same. Sister-song "Love in Motion" featured some crisp guitar picking that was straight from late '70s Bowie and some wonderful high bass licks. Showing off its pop credentials, it was hard to say which track was most appealing out of the updated military rhythms underpinning the sequencing of "Uniform," the pulsing guitars and splashing synths of "Great Southern Land" or the gorgeous polish of "Street Café" (if Roxy Music put it on Avalon, it would sit there very comfortably indeed and be one of its best tracks; he out-Ferrys Bryan Ferry on vocals). That album epitomised the best of its decade.

This made me a little apprehensive about this Best of set. Would it sacrifice much-loved tracks off that album to incorporate later singles, which may be a lot weaker? Yes and No. Yes, it has to miss out some great ones, but it still includes the five greatest tracks from Primitive Man. No, the tracks from later albums still match the quality, from the ABC strings of "Electric Blue" to the punchy brass emphasis of "Mr. Big." That most of the tracks were written and produced by Iva Davies, who virtually became Icehouse by the second and third albums, only goes to make him one of the most impressive pop writers to come out of Australia.

It should be no surprise that Icehouse blends so well the sounds of Bowie, The Cars, Roxy Music, Talk Talk and Gary Numan (and the odd touch of Waterboys or 77s), as they began as a covers band. You can imagine a setlist...

Icehouse might have to face the charge of plagiarism when it comes to sounds (try listening to "No Promises" without thinking of Bowie, whom Icehouse supported on his 'Serious Moonlight' tour, or the verses of "Miss Divine" without thinking of the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon," right down to the brass licks at the end...). But the melodies and hooks are mostly original, and constantly memorable. His "Crazy" is almost as strong as Seal's. Davies must dream in top ten singles. This collection might be almost 80 minutes long, but it seemed to end too soon for the first few listens.

If you like pulsing synths, crisp guitars and song after song after song with a great tune and impressive production – or if you want most of the 80s in one disc – this one should do it. Thoroughly recommended.

4.5 Tocks
Derek Walker

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