The Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2015-08-15

A few years ago, I made a note to myself to check out a band called The Sugarcubes. At the time, I was just starting to explore the rich history of post-punk in the UK, ensconcing myself daily in new discoveries by The Cure, The Chameleons, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Cocteau Twins. I knew The Sugarcubes reputation as one of Iceland’s biggest bands - and probably its most historically significant - yet I was put off by the garish colors of the cover of Life's Too Good (neon pink and green didn’t manage to immediately transmit the sort of romantic and existential angst I had gotten used to), and it wound up at the bottom of my Amazon Wish List, along with four hundred other items that, presumably, I’ll check out gradually over the next fifty years.

Fast-forward to today, and I finally got acquainted with this well-regarded album, thanks to a limited-edition LP reissue by One Little Indian. Now almost thirty years old, the musicianship is solid throughout, if a little dated; the snares can sound tinny, and the distorted guitars a bit canned, but the ways that Life’s Too Good deviates from the standard post-punk formula are interesting. 

First and foremost, there’s the idiosyncratic vocals of singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir, who would actually go on to achieve some moderate success as an artist called Björk. Her singing weaves around prickly rhythms, squealing, moaning, yelping, and generally subverting your expectations of what a post-punk track should sound like. It’s not quite the polyphonic effect of Liz Fraser on Heaven or Las Vegas, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. ‘Birthday’, my favorite track here and one that should be on repeat in any post-punk enthusiast's catalog, shows just how effective the combination could be, with Björk’s vocals perfectly complementing pitch-bending keyboards against a backdrop that reminds of The Cure at their most delectable.

But Björk is not the only person credited with vocal duties on the album. Einar Örn Benediktsson's style of speak-singing leaves quite an imprint - one that's likely to divide listeners, even on a track as catchy as 'Delicious Demon'. The speak-singing approach itself isn't so much a problem, but rather, the fact that Einar Örn has a pretty significant accent, and uses it on lyrics that some might consider bizarre (from 'Sick For Toys': "The boy cut off her hair, all of her hair / She was bald / She might not now be sick for toys"). Now just imagine every syllable being speak-sung in a painfully awkward accent by Tim and Eric as they parody a Scandinavian post-punk band. But depending on your point of view, it could be just another reason to love this endearingly weird album.


 

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