|Sugarcubes, The - The DVD|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 07 February 2006|
For many, the Sugarcubes means nothing more than that band Bjork was in prior to going solo. Bjork is an oddball diva, for lack of a better term. But as strange as Bjork is, the Sugarcubes was an even stranger musical outfit.
This DVD captures the band in a series of concerts. In many ways, this group can be compared to an Icelandic Talking Heads. This is because its songs were oftentimes emotionally detached. Much of the time, its tunes also sported simple, one-word titles. These one-namers included “Birthday,” “Deus,” “Cowboy” and “Cat.” Even though the group was expressive when it played these songs, you never got the impression it was revealing anything particularly personal about itself.
Even back then, Bjork was already the clear focal point and center of attention on stage. Thus, it’s not too surprising that Bjork later went on to make film appearances (most notably in “Dancer in the Dark”). It’s just about impossible to keep your eyes off of her. Such attractiveness is not based upon the way she dressed, however: she doesn’t wear anything particularly striking here. It’s also not in how she wore her hair, which is either flattened down or sticking out every which way during these various show shots. Instead, it’s mainly due her childlike body twists, as well as the unusual animal-like manner she sometimes squeaked out these songs.
As a solo artist, Bjork has begun to reveal a somewhat smoother singing style. But within the Sugarcubes’ context, she is the main element within a wild menagerie of sound. The Sugarcubes may share quirky traits with groups like Talking Heads, but it’s tough to compare the act to just one other specific band. Like its namesake, this group many times sweetly dissolves into a wide variety of different styles. On this DVD, for instance, its approach goes from the jangly guitar rock of “Planets,” to the much more angst-ridden drive of “Cowboy.” This music’s off-kilter rhythms makes it difficult to relax and just get into these grooves, so to speak. Even so, “Cat” is a fast one that slightly borders on being soulful. The hit single “Birthday” is also a delight. Its sound draws from both reggae and jazz (mainly due to its trumpet work), without ever sounding too much like either influence. It also sports Bjork’s best vocal, which finds her alternately growling and warmly bouncing out her words.
This DVD’s music and talk is laid out in an atypical format. Rather than dividing its live performance sections from its interview segments, the disc’s onstage and offstage moments are mixed and matched together, alternating from one to the other. As you might expect, there are no standard sit-down interviews. Instead, band members are shown doing un-rock-like things while pontificating about subjects that interest them. These moments are treated as interviews – if you want to call them that. For example, Bjork is shot sitting at a table with a television set on top of it. She then proceeds to take the back off of the set and describes how its various circuits may look like a miniaturized city model to the untrained eye. She also recalls the time when an Icelandic poet temporarily scared her away from watching TV. And just what do you learn about Bjork and her band’s music during this talk? Nothing, of course.
Other band interviews include one with keyboardist Einer, which finds the leather-clad artist speculating about the various planets in our solar system. It’s then followed by a song called “Planet.” But before we see the band singing “Planet,” Einer compares planets to people, for no particular reason. The group’s other keyboardist, Magga, engages in an interview that features a cameraman and a soundman following her through an Icelandic grocery store. While in the market, Magga details some of this region’s favorite foods. Most of these edibles, of course, are fish. Her bland descriptions of these meal items certainly won’t win her any commercial spokesperson gigs any time soon, nor will they lead to a run on Icelandic food. The worst thing that Icelanders eat, according to Magga, is sheep’s head. Whenever someone cooks it at her home, Magga tells us here, she usually leaves the house for a while. Drummer Siggi’s interview is the strangest Q&A of all. He’s introduced while walking into a church. Outside the church, he’s shot in color. But once inside, he’s seen in stark black and white. As he talks, he speaks in a Billy Bob Thornton Southern accent. His subject of choice is a diatribe against the American nuclear war policy. With it, he suggests that some Southern Americans believe they have a sort of spiritual manifest destiny relationship with the bomb; God has somehow blessed them with the ability to incinerate the rest of the world. When we meet bassist Bragi, he’s caught in his house where we also meet his cats. This is followed, not surprisingly, by a song called “Cats.” Lastly, guitarist Thor’s interview captures the musician driving in a car, which is followed up by the group’s popular song, “Motorcrash.”
This DVD appears to document not one concert, but maybe two or even more. During the song “Plastic,” which comes along about three-quarters of the way through, the group looks strikingly different from the way it did at the beginning. For instance, all band members are mainly dressed in dark clothes, and Bjork’s hair is short and flat, instead of big and fluffy, as seen earlier. Time periods and venues are never conveyed, however. It would have been nice if the producers had shared this chronological information.
Usually, time softens our perspective on even the most outrageous artists. But such is not the case with The Sugarcubes. This act is as tough to get your head around today as it’s ever been. It supports the notion that when you gather together a collection of oddball characters, a strange rock group is most likely what you’ll get. The music suggests that this act is a little “out there,” and the interview segments second that emotion with a bold exclamation point. Bjork is, as stated earlier, a sort of alternative diva. Although she can match vocals with the best of today’s female vocalists, there’s still something exotic about her that distinctly sets her apart.
Although this release fulfills its primary purpose, that of capturing the Sugarcubes live, it would have been even better if these performances were also accompanied by a little perspective, as well. For instance, where are these other musicians today? We all know about Bjork, but what’s happened to the rest of the cast? As mentioned previously, it would have helped if this package had included information about where these various concerts were shot. Furthermore, why were these particular dates captured on film, and not others? Where do these concert dates fit into the overall career of the group? So many questions, so little answers.
This DVD is great for Bjork fans who want to see her singing earlier songs in a prior configuration. But if you’re looking for the Sugarcubes’ story, such a DVD has yet to be made.
The sound of this DVD is sufficiently fine. Visually, there aren’t a whole lot of eye-grabbing tricks utilized. Well, little animated cowboys and cats supplement a few songs. But other than that, it’s mostly just cameras capturing the Sugarcubes in concert.