The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (One Little Indian)
Limited Edition Green Vinyl reissue
Due out 14 August 2015
One little Indian’s decision to raid the back catalogue and re-issue ‘Life’s Too Good’ the 1988 debut album by The Sugarcubes will inevitability mean one thing to most people: Björk Guðmundsdóttir.
Or just plain Björk as the global unit shifting phenomenon is known to us all. I’m no economist, but she’s probably Iceland’s biggest export. OK don’t bother checking, its probably cod, but you get what I mean – she casts a long shadow.
Which is tough on the rest of the band – ‘cos that’s what they were. A strange exotic bunch who arrived unheralded via John Peel with the extraordinary ‘Birthday’, single from a land whose only previous impacts on music had been to host plane load of journalists to mark The Stranglers ‘Black and White’ album in 1978 and playing host to the errant Jaz Coleman when doing his first ‘end of the world’ runner in 1982.
OK that’s a gross over-simplification. Others came before The Sugarcubes, like Crass associates Kukl and The Sugarcubes own roots have links back to the icelandic anarcho-punk scene, so perhaps their arrival wasn’t quite so out of the blue. But that’s how it seemed to many of us, brought up on British/American music.
Remember this was pre-internet, You Tube, Spottify. The Saints had been seen as terminal outsiders only a few years before. Australia was physically remote, but culturally not so far removed. Iceland? It may as well have been another planet. And by the sound of The Sugarcubes that’s exactly how it appeared.
Listening back to the album now, it’s not as extreme as I expected. The guitar work on ‘Fucking In Rhythm and Sorrow’ sounds, well more jazz than anything, oh and is that a tuba in the mix? Quite possibly. The whole beauty of ‘Life’s too Good’ is it’s refusal to play by the rules.
‘Birthday’ remains the gloriously off-kilter, yet sensual gem it always was, lolloping bass, rumbling percussion and of course THAT voice, the only possible reference point being Liz Fraser and her aural gymnastics. Never has a simple line like ‘they’re smoking cigars’ sounded so alluring.
‘Motorcrash’ is pure glacial pop complete with a jaunty brass parts and ‘Delicious Demon’ always struck me as a pop song pure and simple. OK a slightly strange pop song, but it was catchy and exuberant and it still is today.
But the highlight still has to be ‘Deus’, Björk’s central refrain of ‘God does not exist’ set to disciplined beat and spare, precise guitar. It remains quite simply, stunning.
Things have got a good deal stranger since ‘Life’s too Good’, both in terms of some of Björk’s later work and the Icelandic bands who have followed in the Sugarcubes footsteps. But the album still stands up today as a distinctive, non-formula set of songs from a band seemingly about to go in any one of ten different directions at once.
That they chose to follow a recognisably indie guitar line with the follow up ‘Stick Around For Joy’ was perhaps inevitable, once the band got onto the album/tour/album cycle and perhaps that’s why Björk had to break out and go her own wilful way.
‘Life’s Too Good’ is a timeless gem, almost beyond classification. It’s The Sugarcubes at their peak. It would be nice to think that some Björk fans not familiar with the band will dip into this, it might seem a bit too close to conventional guitar pop to modern ears, but it still has enough of an other-worldly twist to remind you of just how different The Sugarcubes were. And for that they should be treasured.
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All words by macthehack. More work on Louder Than War by macthehack can be found here.