Friday, May 30, 2008

Icicle Works Heats Up The Charts

Rock trio Icicle Works were among the throng of pop/rock acts that burst forth from the British new wave/neo punk music landscape of the early 80s. Liverpool native Robert Ian McNabb (vocals/guitar) had formerly played with City Lights, then Sunset Boulevard, before joining with Chris Layhe (bass) and Chris Sharrock (drums) to form Icicle Works in 1979. They took their name from the title of short story by science fiction writer Frederik Pohl.

Having released a couple of independent singles without much notice, Icicle Works signed with the flourishing Beggars Banquet label in 1983. Shortly after they released ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ which turned a whiter shade of gold by reaching #15 on the British charts late in ‘83.
1984 saw the band breakthrough on the U.S. charts for the first and only time. Taken from their self titled album, the song ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’, as it was titled in the U.K., had its title re-jigged slightly to read ‘Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly)’ for an American audience. Having reached only #53 in the U.K. (at its second attempt), the title rearrangement had some small affect with the song peaking at #37 in the U.S. and making the Canadian Top 20.

‘Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly)’ featured multiple drum tracks, not unlike some other acts going around at the time like Adam & The Ants, Bow Wow Wow and King Trigger - though Icicle Works carried more ‘weight‘ in musical terms along the lines of Killing Joke or Simple Minds. The drum-line gave the song a pulsating effect that was hard to resist, well if you liked your music heavy on the percussion. I can’t help but think of Big Country also when I hear the song - power pop with a thumping beat. The bands eponymous debut album also cracked the U.S. and U.K. Top 40.

But Icicle Works would remain on the fringes of the rock scenes A-list for the remainder of the 80s, never quite being able to translate solid critical respect to sustained commercial appeal. The band had moved away from its harder edged new wave sound to explore other musical influences that could be argued to have alienated some of the bands traditional fan base. It wasn’t uncommon for an Icicle Works album like ’The Small Price Of A Bicycle’ or a single like ’Understanding Jane’ to lurk just outside the British Top 50. As for the American market, Icicle Works would sadly be consigned to one-hit wonder status, never quite fulfilling their potential realised by Merseyside contemporaries Echo & The Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes. By decades end Icicle Works a fury of personnel changes failed to gel and the band had been dumped by their record label, soon melting away to nothing. Among the horde of revolving door members during the last couple of years the Icicle Works was in business, was drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo).

Original drummer Sharrock went on to join The La’s, followed later by World Party and would play for the likes of Robbie Williams and Eurythmics. The heart and soul of the band Ian McNabb was signed to an independent label in 1991 and scored a couple of minor U.K. chart hits in 1993, including the well received album ’Truth & Beauty’. McNabb showed himself to be a durable talent throughout the 90s, punching out two more top 30 albums with ’Head Like A Rock’ and ’Merseybeast’. In 2006 Ian McNabb resurrected Icicle Works featuring ‘second generation’ bassist Roy Corkill and two new recruits in addition to McNabb, and the lineup has played sporadically across the U.K. over the last two years.

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