Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Sidewalk Leads Cross The Border

Having already collaborated with director Russell Mulcahy on several Icehouse music videos, Iva Davies was invited by the director to compose the soundtrack music for his latest motion picture ‘Razorback’, which premiered in April ‘84. During this project Davies employed a valuable technical ally in the studio with his pioneering use of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument), which he would use more extensively on his band’s next venture. Over the same period the prolific Davies found time to pen and record the tracks for the new Icehouse album ‘Sidewalk’. The lead out single ‘Taking The Town’ was released in April ‘84 and soon after debuted on the Australian charts, eventually peaking at #29. The promo video (this time directed by Stephen Hopkins) was an elaborate production, featuring lots of wild stunt work on motorbikes and high wires (a bit like the Duran Duran ‘Wild Boys’ video meets ‘Mad Max’). In June ‘Sidewalk’ (produced solely by Davies) was released, and though not shifting the same number of units as its predecessors, still managed to stroll to #8 in Australia.

The follow up single was the evocatively brooding ballad ‘Don’t Believe Anymore’. I can recall listening to this lavishly produced song over and over in the dark, absorbing every tiny detail, submitting myself completely to its spell. Part of the appeal lay in the sublime saxophone over the intro and at key points throughout. The saxophone was played by one Joe Camilleri, who must have a had a free five minutes in between disbanding Jo Jo Zep and forming the Black Sorrows. I remember seeing Icehouse perform the song on Countdown, with Camilleri, and just being mesmerized by the whole thing. ‘Don’t Believe Anymore’ reached a middle of the road #31 on the Australian charts, but deserved so much better. The Whitlams recorded a cover of ‘Don’t Believe Anymore’ for their 2002 album ‘Torch The Moon’. Tim Freedman’s vocals gave the song a different feel but overall it was a creditable version which flirted with the lower reaches of the top forty. The third single from ‘Sidewalk’ was ‘Dusty Pages’ (OZ#82), released in late ’84, another brilliantly constructed song, from the opening crisp strum of Davies acoustic guitar (re-recorded for the more acoustically based single version of the song). The version of the promo vid I have (from the ‘Masterfile’ video) features Davies laid out in a coffin with rose petals slowly being dropped across his face until it’s fully covered by the end of the song. There was another version of the video, with the different tempo album cut, kicking around as well. In the latter part of 1984 Icehouse hit the road, touring Scandinavia and Japan, and in October performed on the ‘Behind The Iron Curtain’ show, broadcast to 80 million throughout Europe.

During 1985 the acclaimed Sydney Dance Company commissioned Iva Davies to compose the soundtrack for their ballet production ‘Boxes’. Davies duly obliged and recorded the soundtrack with the assistance of Icehouse guitarist Robert Kretschmer. Davies and Kretschmer both helped perform the music at the ballet’s premiere in November 1985 at the Sydney Opera House. The accompanying soundtrack album has apparently become quite the collector’s item.

Davies then refocussed on Icehouse for the band’s next album project, though some of the album’s inspiration (and material) crossed over from the ‘Boxes’ project. Davies also took a back seat on the production side of things on ‘Measure For Measure’ (co-produced by Rhett Davies - no relation - and David Lord-Alge), and guitarist Robert Kretschmer stepped forward to co-write most of the album’s songs with Davies. The advance single ‘No Promises’ had featured in the ‘Boxes’ project and was remixed for the new ‘Measure For Measure’ set. The atmospheric ‘No Promises’ debuted on the Australian charts in November ‘85 and reached a respectable #30. It became the first Icehouse/Flowers single to also chart in both the U.S. (#79) and U.K. (#72), and a remixed 12” version of the track reached the top 10 on the U.S. Dance/Club charts (that’s one version I’m glad I haven’t heard). ‘Measure For Measure’ debuted on the charts in April ‘86 and made a measured trek all the way to #8 by mid year (US#55). The second single ‘Baby, You’re So Strange’ (OZ#14) was released to coincide with this, the more guitar driven rock song also featured Davies delivering an unusually hard edged vocal performance. The promo vid is one of my favourite of this Icehouse age, and Davies had some fun playing around with his image (alternating between short haired straight laced look and a long maned rock star image). ‘Measure For Measure’ also yielded the hit singles ‘Mr. Big’ (OZ#18) and ‘Cross The Border’ (OZ#65), ensuring Icehouse maintained a presence on the airwaves and on the charts throughout 1986. The promo video for ‘Mr. Big’ featured an appearance from singer Carol Hitchcock (who had a hit with ‘Get Ready’ the following year, which coincidentally also reached #18 in Australia).

During this period, in the studio guitarist Robert Kretschmer was Davies’ right hand man, whilst bassist Guy Pratt and keyboardist Andy Qunta had stayed on since ‘Sidewalk’. The band roster for the ‘Measure For Measure’ sessions also featured Simon Lloyd (sax/ keyboards) and Steve Jensen (drums), whilst former Roxy Music member and Bowie collaborator Brian Eno guested on several tracks (keyboards and backing vocals). Joining Icehouse on the road were bassist Vito Portolesi (later replaced by Glen Krawezyk, later replaced again by Stephen Morgan) and drummer Paul Wheeler. During this period the band undertook extensive tours taking in Japan and the U.S.. On August 14th 1986 Icehouse performed at New York City’s Ritz Hotel, from which the video ‘Icehouse: Live at the Ritz’ was produced.

Despite the still consistent album sales and string of charting singles, there had been nothing earth shattering in commercial terms from Iva and the lads for sometime. All of that would change with the release of Icehouse’s next album in 1987.

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