Life's Too Good

The Sugarcubes

Elektra, 1988

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Few albums define the word "debut" as well as this one, yet this is one of the more interesting debuts from the underground '80s alternative scene. This is the group that Bjork was part of before branching off into a solo career, of course, and although the seeds of her solo sound are easily found here, they are blended in with idiosyncratic lyrics, angular post-punk guitar and a youthful, very European feel.

The band's approach is not unlike Siouxsie And The Banshees, mixed with some of the goofiness of the B-52s, down to a female singer and a male speaker working in tandem. Like much post-punk of the era, this seems to be inspired by David Bowie's Scary Monsters my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 in its sound, all jagged-edge guitars, barely audible bass and solid, unobtrusive drums. It's not terribly original given how common this sound was in the underground, and it takes Bjork's keening, chilly voice to set the songs apart.

Check out the driving "Coldsweat," which takes on an unsettling atmosphere in its story of an attack (by animal, by the dark side of one's personality, whatever); in the hands of a male singer, it might sound hokey, but Bjork's voice takes it to another, creepier level. Einar Orn contributes the spoken words and barely-sung vocals on a few of the songs, bouncing off of Bjork on "Blue-Eyed Pop" while Thor's high-end guitar notes pierce like glass, the aural equivalent of Bjork's voice. "I Want" is nearly ethereal in its vocals but grounded and dissonant in its music, threatening to burst wide open but staying clenched instead.

The Sugarcubes grew out of a number of other punk bands; Bjork had been on the Icelandic music scene since her early teens, for example, so these guys know what they are doing. Consequently, the music is youthful but confident, moving from post-punk workouts to distant European pop songs like "Motorcrash" to gloomy numbers like "Mama" while still finding time for a goofy send-up of American country in "Fucking In Rhythm And Sorrow."

At times, this sound can come off as unintentionally gimmicky; the B-52s at least knew "Rock Lobster" was a goof, and it was part of their charm, but these guys seem totally serious on songs like "Delicious Demon" and the annoying "Sick For Toys," which sounds almost coherent lyrically but is ruined by the singing. Bjork had yet to establish her solo approach, as stated earlier, so those who are wary about her solo career can take solace in knowing that those quirks aren't established yet and she works within the confines of her band here.

The band wouldn't last long as Bjork's ambition grew, but for a little while they were a fascinating addition to the left of the dial. Fans of the era or genre should at least check this out, starting with the highlights above and discovering the rest if desired.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra, and is used for informational purposes only.