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CD Reviews:  Icecream Hands: Sweeter Than the Radio


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My best friend and fellow music geek Steve Wamsley introduced me to this 
Australian trio after reading a convincing bio on the band, and boy, am I glad 
he did. Sweeter Than the Radio is, in a word, stunning. Anyone who likes Neil 
Finn but misses Crowded House should get this album, now. It’s essentially the fifth Crowded House album (it’s actually superior to the House’s last album, Together Alone), with more energy and less neurosis. Equal parts Beatles and Byrds, it’s a superbly crafted pop gem.

Things start off quietly with “Can Anyone be Hypnotized,” with singer/guitarist Charles Jenkins quietly strumming his acoustic guitar and working on his Neil Finn impression. Tempo shifts up dramatically on “Spirit Level Windowsill,” which sounds uncannily like Pete Yorn’s “Life on a Chain” yet predates it by two years (this album was released in 1999). A rollicking piece of Americana with a strain of Brit Pop, it’s a killer. And it doesn’t stop there. 

“Dodgy” is almost disturbingly catchy; it’s vintage Lightning Seeds without the gloss, filled with delicious backing vocals and enough hooks to fill a tackle box, not to mention some nifty drumming from Derek Smiley. “Rise Fall & Roll” is Finn re-imagining the Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” squawk box vocal in the bridge and everything. “Nipple” is about, well, exactly what you think it is, though it’s really a sweet love song in disguise. “You missed a button/I saw a nipple, and it’s true/I didn’t look away/Could’ve stared at it all day.” 

The Hands show their US influences on the awkwardly titled “Picture Disc From the Benelux.” It’s a roaring tribute to the Byrds both vocally and lyrically: “Don’t worry about your picture disc from the Benelux/Your Sweetheart of the Rodeo is riding in to town.” It doesn’t have the vintage 12-string twang, but the harmonies are the album’s finest. “Giving it All Away” is where the lyrics come full circle, with Jenkins realizing “Am I giving it all away, only to find one day/I’ve been hypnotized.” 

You could compare Sweeter Than the Radio to the Raspberries or Badfinger if you wanted, but it would be misleading, unfair and lazy. These days, every crap power pop band that has four part harmonies is compared to Badfinger and the Raspberries, even if they can’t write a lick of decent music. If anything, it does a current band more harm than good to even make the comparison. Where IceCream Hands separate themselves from the wannabes is that they’re not soundalikes, but are as good as Badfinger and the Raspberries. Sweeter Than the Radio is simply gorgeous, a marvelously sophisticated pop record that has gone tragically unheard. This is my attempt at rectifying such a horrible oversight.

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David Medsker

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