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POP MUSIC : Sugarcubes' Demons, Doubts and Humor

June 12, 1988|ROBERT HILBURN

****THE SUGARCUBES. "Life's Too Good." Elektra.

Thanks to two gloriously tempting singles last year by this arty and adventurous band from Iceland, "Life's Too Good" has been one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the '80s among rock cultists and critics.

And with its creative imagination and daring, the LP not only meets those expectations but also exhibits enough accessibility to deserve some mainstream pop-rock acceptance.

Sugarcubes' unlikely success story began last summer in England when the quintet, whose surrealistic pop style mixes a hint of folk humanism with its dominant post-punk textures, released a seductive single, "Birthday."

The record's appeal lay in the gently enchanting vocal by Bjork, the group's female lead singer, and in the band's spunk in challenging listeners to unravel the mysterious tale about a little girl's sexual misadventures. "Coldsweat," the follow-up, was an equally impressive combination of a more conventional, tough rock assault with anxious, though still teasingly oblique lyrics.

Those tracks are outstanding, but the LP's highlights revolve around the new material. The album's title underscores the Sugarcubes' continued eagerness to challenge their audience with sly or ironic touches. At times while listening to the songs about demons and doubts, deities and twisted delights, it's easy to think that the title is a mocking commentary on the obsessions and tribulations of modern life.

Yet at other times, when the band's humor and spirit of celebration surface, the title seems more a good-natured acknowledgement of people's ability to survive all the absurdities and still find moments of comfort and joy.

Throughout, "Life's Too Good" has the feel of an impact album: one of those rare debuts--like the first X or Talking Heads albums--that not only influence the creative underground but stretch the overall boundaries of rock.

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