ICEHOUSE: Sgt. Iva’s Magical Mystery Tour (Spinning the Big Wheel)
LOVE AN ADVENTURE
In the early nineties many bands born of the post-punk generation hit a creative brick wall (Duran Duran’s Liberty, INXS’s X and ICEHOUSE Code Blue come to mind). Only U2 and Depeche Mode played their cards correctly. The slate was effectively wiped clean for the aforementioned trio of acts.
All did better on their second take of the new decade. Duran turned to the Wedding album and made an Ordinary World exemplary, INXS took U2’s lead to craft Welcome to Wherever You Are while Iva Davies took ICEHOUSE on their most daring adventure!
Taking a visually creative cue from Led Zeppelin’s Remasters, Big Wheel brought Iva Davies interest in the more progressive spheres of music to the forefront. The Bowie influence is still present in Satellite, Cadillac and Stolen Guitar but there were new psychedelic elements unheard in their music before.
SGT IVA AND THE SPIRITUAL NINETIES
In much the same way as John Foxx had done with The Golden Section 10 years earlier, could The Beatles Sgt. Pepper have been a guiding influence? For starters there’s the sitar which blurs the boundary of Satellite ending and signals the beginning of Goodbye Valentine.
On the album’s inner artwork Davies looks to be imitating the Sgt. Pepper look wearing a similar styled jacket, albeit with a slightly more hippy vibe (shirt undone and necklace). Remember this is in 1993 amid a resurgence in the ‘mother earth’ vibe (see my Polytown blog for more on that).
However there were other influences in the mix, getting back to Led Zep whose John Paul Jones produced The Mission’s Children album, could Feed the Machine be an unheard opus from Wayne Hussey? Certainly Davies has not been shy of his influences (Code Blue’s Miss Divine being more or less a xerox of The Waterboys Whole of the Moon).
Invisible People perhaps a musical tip of the hat to 10cc. Davies has hinted at Pink Floyd’s influence particularly on Code Blue’s Charlie’s Sky but on Big Wheel’s ‘link music’ he fuses Brian Eno’s ambience with Floyd’s art-rock ethic to segue tracks together. Eno himself an influence on the opening title track and again on The System’s outro.
CREATE AND INNOVATE
Big Wheel was (to date) the last proper ICEHOUSE album and also the last on which he wears his hair long. It’s also their only recording with the band listed as a trio and additionally innovative for its release with a computer floppy disk. The rest of the nineties saw The Berlin Tapes and many pointless compilations before a lengthy hiatus took hold (as it did with Bowie in the 2000s).
Big Wheel itself segued into the adjoining Full Circle remix project and the Spin One EP. Marc Bolan’s Desdemona again given a new psychedelic twist alongside Bill Laswell’s epic take on the Great Southern Land (retitled The Great Southern Mix) which sat amid contemporary grooves such as Colours (i.e. Man of..) and Blue Noise (Electric Blue).
BEYOND THE BIG WHEEL
Beyond Big Wheel lay the foundations of what was to be Bi-Polar Poems (still unreleased). Instead we got two live albums; one as DubHouse, the other a more standard set from Icehouse (now effectively a touring band). What is the legacy of Big Wheel? Chartwise it’s safe to say Big Wheel despite it’s craftsmanship was a huge under performer even in Australia not even cracking the top 40.
Like many bands before and since, Iva and his group of part-timers had graduated from the mainframe of radio and hits to a kind of professorship of sound. Big Wheel was reissued in 2002 and once more in 2012. I don’t know if these sold any more than the original release but this time the running order and bonus tracks are correct! The addition of the ICEHOUSE logo in white is also a defining touch. Great work from all involved.
*I wrote reviews of both Big Wheel and Full Circle for All Music Guide back in the early 2000s but felt they didn’t do justice to the work and whoever edited them mutilated the rest as I’d written them as one piece. I hope this piece resets the balance.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and Photo Credits to follow…
Violence of Summer (from Liberty) – Duran Duran
The Stairs (from X) – INXS
Where the River Meets the Sea (from Code Blue) – ICEHOUSE
One (from Achtung Baby) – U2
Enjoy the Silence (from Violator) – Depeche Mode
Come Undone (from The Wedding Album) – Duran Duran
Men and Women (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Big Wheel (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Satellite (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Goodbye Valentine (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Sitting at the Edge of the World (The Golden Section) – John Foxx
Feed the Machine (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Deliverance (from Carved in Sand) – The Mission
Never Again (from Masque) – The Mission
Wall Street Shuffle (from Sheet Music) – 10cc
Invisible People (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Desdemona (from Full Circle) – ICEHOUSE
Baby Face (from Zooropa) – U2
Walking in my Shoes (from Songs of Faith and Devotion) – Depeche Mode
The System (from Big Wheel) – ICEHOUSE
Photo Credits: discogs and my personal archive.