Underappreciated Album of the Month: UAM #2 (The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good, 1988)

The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good

Underappreciated Album of the Month: UAM #2 (The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good, 1988)

With this re-vamped DOA feature, we focus our attention on an album that may not have the recognition or notoriety it deserves. It might be a cult hit, it might be a small favorite or it might even be an album that is just so great, we feel it needs all of the attention possible. Albums chosen will always be, at least, more than five years old and will be chosen at our own discretion and hey, if you feel there is an underappreciated gem you wish could get some exposure, feel free to let us know.

Icelandic band The Sugarcubes literally came out of nowhere (at least in the musical landscape) in 1988, sounded like no one else around, and launched Björk into the limelight.  Debut album Life’s Too Good is an invigorating, primal, and delightful masterpiece of counterbalancing musical and vocal forces, a heady mix of tension, joy, menace, and beauty.

The Sugarcubes was only one (ad)venture for multi-talented members Björk Guðmundsdóttir (vocals), Einar Örn Benediktsson (vocals, trumpet), Sigtryggur (Siggi) Baldursson (drums), Þór (Thor) Eldon (guitar), Bragi Ólafsson (bass), and Margrét (Magga) Örnólfsdóttir (keyboards), who also were, and some of whom still are, part of an artistic collective involved in various bands and running the record label Smekkleysa SM (Bad Taste Ltd).

Life’s Too Good showcases how each member was integral to the overall “Sugarcubes” sound, led by the passionate wailing, exuberant glee, and formidable lung power of Björk and the serious to antic ranting and raving of compatriot Einar Örn.  The melodic, rollicking to reflective pop and rock songs team with Thor’s sharp guitar, Bragi’s dynamic bass, Siggi’s skittering drums, and Magga’s glowing keyboards.

Björk and Einar play off each other like Beauty and the Beast, creating an exhilarating friction between Björk’s spirited wildness and Einar’s at-times-vexing shouty vocals.  The spotlight shines on Björk for “Birthday” where she erupts and soars with ecstatic abandon on the spine-tingling chorus.  A dangerous aura pervades “Coldsweat” with its pounding drum beat, ominous guitar chords, and Einar’s growled-out vocals, with Björk airy and anxious on the verses and emphatically squalling on the chorus.  The storytelling “Motorcrash” moves at a brisk, upbeat pace as Björk sing-talks with wide-eyed innocence against Einar’s crafty patter.  “Delicous Demon” is a rip-snorting tune displaying Björk’s big appetite for life as she, and Einar, roar away assertively on the chorus.

Despite music critic accolades at the time, The Sugarcubes now seems relegated to a footnote in Björk’s on-going brilliant career.  From my standpoint, however, The Sugarcubes and Life’s Too Good in particular have a special place in my music-loving heart due to the fact that in 1988 they radically altered the course of my music-listening experiences.  The Sugarcubes broke the ice for me and I switched from following Top 40 radio to digging into “alternative” music with gusto.  I find that Life’s Too Good has stood the test of time and taste, and sounds just as vivid and compelling and unique as it did in the late 1980s.