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Before there was Björk, there were Sugarcubes. For those of us who were connoisseurs of alternative music back in the late '80s and early '90s, this Icelandic art-punk-pop band was a breath of glacially cooled air in a music scene that was slowly creeping toward Nirvana and grunge-dominated riffage. The band featured the future queen of electronic pixies, Björk, on lead vocals, and, in retrospect, it seems readily apparent that she was destined for bigger, better, and even more creative endeavors. But the Icelandic sensation should not be written off as a footnote to the eccentric pop star's later career - the new wave and always off-kilter leanings of the Sugarcubes were noteworthy in their own right. Einar Benediktsson's sporadic trumpet playing and bizarre spoken/sung lyrics popped up at least once or twice in every song, a feature of the band that was employed more often on their second and third albums, which annoyed some and charmed others. The Sugarcubes' chorus-drenched guitars and reverbed drums may sound a bit dated upon close listen today, but they were trademarks of their time. Even while employing the production values of that era, the weirdness of the band that was one of their biggest assets made them forever unique. Their songs were rooted in traditional pop structures set slightly askew by their notion of art-infused rock.
This collection, released for the first time on DVD, features 12 of the Sugarcubes' most beloved songs, with videos ranging from super low-budget effected videos to mini-tales that deal with the often strange subject matter of the songs. The disc starts out with the shimmering and cheap video effects of the Icelandic version of "Birthday," one of their first hits and most beautiful songs. In contrast with the road disaster-themed video for "Motorcrash," or the uni-browed Björk flying around in a bubble over the Icelandic landscape of "Planet," the group's later, more polished videos make it apparent that their initially hesitant label was willing to inject a bit more money into their later projects. But the fact is that most of the videos in this collection would be immediately forgettable if the music wasn't so damn good, a testament to both how good their songwriting was and their rejection of mainstream record label pressures. The three extras on the disc are songs from the last period of the band's existence, and while the videos are definitely higher-budget affairs, the music just isn't as good. I'll take the B52's-aping "Luftguitar" or the skydiving Einar of "Regina" ("Lobster and shrimps in my life, I really don't like lobster!") over their later attempts at pop music any day.
The Björk-obsessed may enjoy this DVD for a peek at a very young version of the star, but this is definitely a collection for the true-school fans of the Sugarcubes. For those of you who are just learning about this band, skip this collection and buy Life's Too Good, their best album. SEE ALSO: www.rhino.com
SEE ALSO: www.indian.co.uk
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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