The Icicles – Pure Sugar EP

The Icicles
Pure Sugar EP

“Pop” that strives to be nothing more, despite its frequent self-aware references to sweets, can be tough to swallow. I don’t like this style of music, and, if you do, please give this album a chance despite what I say. “Pop” bands, like my roommate leaving yet another empty bag of tortilla chips lying around, get under my skin to an extent that I can’t really hide. The Icicles, though, seem like nice enough people, they even thank their husbands and wife in the liner notes, and I’m sure a fair amount of work and thought went into making this, and really, if “pop” is your thing, it’s not all that bad. I hate to keep using “pop” as a dirty word, but it seems that somewhere around the early to mid-90s pop went from being infectious, somewhat reactionary, and intelligent music to a lamely ironic pose for otherwise disposable songs and bands. The last really good pop, in the non-derogatory sense, band I know of was Papas Fritas. They produced some stellar songs during the 90s, and the Icicles may do well by themselves to consult that band’s catalog for a roadmap of how to do this the right way.
It’s all here; vintage organs, perky back-ups, hand claps, and shaky drumming, but none of it ever really meshes or adds up to much. The “yeah’s” at the end of “New Haircolor” are oddly lifeless when they should be uplifting. Lyrics that could potentially be endearing come off as trite (“I was never as beautiful as the other girls in school. I just tried so darn hard but I could never be cool. It’s just me in my polyester dress” from “Polyester Dress”). It all sounds stuck on the playground (“Always wearing your Vision street wear, hanging with your friends without a care” from “Skater Boyfriend”), which is the intention. Everyone I know hated high school, so this little piece of nostalgia doesn’t warm my heart. At times, the disc sounds so over-produced and manipulated that any attempts at spontaneity or the mistakes that otherwise would give the recording life end up sounding as weirdly planned out as the rest of the clunky effects. They’d be a lot better off ditching the recording tricks and sticking a microphone in the middle of their practice space and just going for it. At least that would give the sound a little bit of heart.
On the positive side, “So Sad” manages a nice little rhyme (“Maybe some day I’ll look back on this as a great learning experience”), and “Margie” features some fine trumpet work and a nicely distorted guitar part. It’s the most musically interesting song on the disc. “Polyester Dress” has nice organ sounds, and vocalist Gretchen DeVault’s voice cracks in some really appealing ways. Her guitar playing fits the music really well, which is another plus. In all, though, she ends up suffering from the same lack of musical personality that plagues the entire recording.
I hate to be sour because I know this is all meant to be fun. The band sounds to be having a good time, and their hearts are in the right places. It’s just that creating the musical equivalent of Frosted Flakes isn’t much of a stretch goal. Music is serious stuff. You don’t have to look hard through recordings from the ’50s and 60s to find hundreds of examples of simple, heartfelt, teenage songs that are still moving and effective. They took it seriously and they played their hearts out. As a result, their work survives and is still untouchable by today’s music. The same can’t really be said here.