No Weapon But Love (2080902 Records DK – and Bandcamp)
What? They’ve been away? Not that you’d notice.
I don’t mean the songs sound the same after a break of more than a dozen years, but rather that the Icecream Hands principles are unchanged. And those principles are solid. As easy to understand as they are to recognise.
Here are a few. Keep not just the songs but the people in them human-scale; melodies are your friend, not the first hurdle to clear; if you’ve got fine harmony singers in the band, use them; just because you’ve got fine harmony singers doesn’t mean you use them at every opportunity; yes, you’re a guitar band, but make the guitars work for you, not lead you; don’t be scared of the pretty or the amusing, embrace them; if you’ve got a chorus with a hook that grabs, why wait to get to it?; did I mention melodies?
To that latter point, you can hear that here aplenty on an album with no shortage of songs you can hum before the end of the track, will remember next time and be singing along with by the third listen. And with a song like the title track - a slice of early ‘70s George Harrison without the heavy hand of Phil Spector - if you aren’t echoing the “love love love love love” backing vocals by the 90 second mark I’m afraid you are clinically deaf. Or dead.
So Happy Apart builds and opens out like The Turtles at their sunshine afternoon best (and when the brass arrives two minutes in it’s like the space had always had them there – how is that possible?), while Waiting is a prototype power ballad that exists without need for bombast and yet seems to fill the space; General Wear And Tear imagines a world where it was Sherbet and not the Bee Gees who remade Sgt Pepper’s in the late ‘70s, and Ten Thousand Reasons throws you a tease of country-rock but actually takes you home with something more classic, more well cut suit than double denim, than that.
And then to highlight by contrast, in Thank You, an open source fan letter to some lifters, not leaners (“Thanks for The Only Ones, and The Ramones/Thanks for The Pretty Things, and The Stones/Thanks for the everlasting Nina Simone/Thanks most of all for Spencer P Jones”) there’s a pull-along verse, a naggingly simple chorus, a droll guitar solo, a Melbourne as the centre of the world line and a final stomp under the bank of voices, comfortably hiding the absence of (and for that matter, the need for) some pretty melody.
HappBut of all those principles held by Charles Jenkins, Douglas Lee Robertson, Derek G Smiley and Marcus Goodwin, the one that probably is easy to overlook is the one that in the end defines Icecream Hands: the human scale.
The characters in Jenkins’ songs are sometimes rickety and unreliable, flecked with minor but telling little flaws, often tied in some way to a drink or three. Their stories aren’t revolutionary or tattooed on their foreheads, but you know them and have probably lived them. More than just relatable, they’re believable.
And he sketches them with the tricky songwriting act of what feels like always an exact, apt description without ever making it sound as if he’s been forever chasing le mot juste for bonus clever boy points.
Likewise the tunes, whether fast or slow, danceable or cryable, don’t come at you like they’re going to overwhelm, or for that matter sneak up on you later on. They feel natural, attainable, upfront: the gentle Liverpool-ness of Can You Feel My Love and Shyness And Alcohol, the atmospheric Seattle choir of February Falls and the trace psychedelia of Somehow We Never Got Together.
They’re so unfussy you figure it’s the kind thing that anyone with an ounce of talent could probably pull it off. Except they don’t. Certainly not as often and as lasting as this. As joyful and satisfying as this.
Thirteen years on, still a bloody marvellous band.