[Review] Icehouse: Sidewalk (1984)

A rare misstep after two brilliant albums that sounds like a poor imitation of Roxy Music and Gary Numan.

Kronomyth 3.0: The episode where Icehouse takes the low road and gets lost.

In the spirit of Rowdy Roddy Piper, I came here to kick ass and chew synth bubblegum for breakfast. At least, that’s what I thought would happen when I queued up Sidewalk on a quiet morning. I’ve never liked this album; it was a bitter disappointment after the promising Primitive Man, relegating Icehouse to the ranks of overwrought also-rans (those whom the breakfast club brats were so in love with for, like, a second). Sidewalk erased any trace of mystery from Icehouse, making plain that the band’s artistic sensibilities were only skin deep.

At least, that’s what I remember from listening to this more than a dozen times in the ‘80s. Today, the sting is softened (the future of music no longer depends on the future of Icehouse), and I can appreciate the album for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. Granted, there’s no getting around the fact that “Taking The Town” is a disquieting change of costume since Primitive Man, Iva Davies emulating a gross caricature of the Bowie/Numan school that stoops far too low to win our affections. Then, as if it never happened, Davies shifts quickly into Bryan Ferry’s warm milieu for “This Time.” The result is catastrophic, outing Davies as an impostor who uses past idols to sell his own idle wares.

I don’t believe that was the band’s intent, but track placement is awfully important, and Sidewalk shows awful judgment in this regard. Slowly, the album builds a case for itself by returning to the wistful grounds of Primitive Man, a style that might be reckoned as Icehouse’s own. “Someone Like You,” “Stay Close Tonight,” “Don’t Believe Anymore” and “Dusty Pages” are the audible offspring of Primitive Man, and it’s here that some sense of appreciation for the album is fostered. The album closes with a pair of tracks from Davies’ score to the film Razorback, “Shot Down” and “The Mountain,” both recorded in 1983 and featuring thicker percussion than the preceding material.

There’s no denying that Sidewalk is a colder, more processed record than I wished it to be, with thin sound that lacks the rich presence of Primitive Man and a vocal vision that lacks conviction. Yet Icehouse’s appeal remains sealed in the middle, suggesting the old magic was misdirected but not irretrievably lost. It’s their least interesting avenue from the ‘80s, but not a place where fans should fear to tread.

Original LP Version

A1. Taking The Town (3:32)
A2. This Time (4:12)
A3. Someone Like You (4:13)
A4. Stay Close Tonight (5:01)
A5. Don’t Believe Anymore (5:15)
B1. Sidewalk (4:06)
B2. Dusty Pages (4:45)
B3. On My Mind (3:38)
B4. Shot Down (4:47)
B5. The Mountain (4:50)

All songs written by Iva Davies.

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Java
12. Dance On
13. Dusty Pages (single version)
14. Taking The Town (extended mix)

The Players

Iva Davies (vocals, Fairlight computer, guitar, oboe), Bob Kretschmer (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Lloyd (percussion, backing vocals), Guy Pratt (bass, backing vocals), Andy Qunta (keyboards) with Joe Camilleri (saxophone), The Remy Corps (backing vocals). Produced by Iva Davies; engineered by Andy Hilton; mixed by David Jerden.

The Pictures

Cover design and layout by Geoffrey Gifford. Photography by Grant Matthews.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on June 26, 1984 in Australia (Regular, RRLP/M5RR 1206), the UK (Chrysalis, CHR/ZCHR/CCD 1458), the US (Chrysalis, FV 41458/F4 21458/VK 41458), Brazil and Canada (Chrysalis, CHS 41458), Germany (Chrysalis, 206 334 320/406 334-652) and Japan (Chrysalis, WWS-81670) with picture innersleeve. Australian elpee features gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on cassette in Australia (Massive, 3214584).
  2. Re-packaged with Measure For Measure on 2-for-1 2CD in 1996 in Australia (Massive, 7320252).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2002 in Australia (Diva, 48983) with 4 bonus tracks.

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