Rock-and-roll is an American phenomenon that rapidly spread around the world. Since the Beatles, English rock bands have become a given, and indeed are often leaders and innovators in rock. Ireland gave us U2, followed by a host of newer artists: Sinead O'Connor, Clannad, In Tua Nua, and so on. Lately, Australian bands like Icehouse and Midnight Oil are moving more and more into the public eye.
Now enter the Sugarcubes, the first rock-and-roll band ever from Iceland.
The release of their first album, ``Life's Too Good,'' has brought the Sugarcubes to the attention of American rock fans, and the response has been strong. At their New York debut here at the Lower East Side club the World, the large, barnlike room (formerly a theater) was filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans who seemed to know every song on the album.
Although the band bears traces of the Talking Heads, the B-52s, and other exponents of quirk-rock, the Sugarcubes have a mysterious charisma all their own. This is largely because of the band's female singer, an elfin, childlike creature named Bj"ork Gudmunsdottir.
Bj"ork is an instinctive, impulsive performer whose voice ranges from a thin little thread to wild cries, shreiks, and growls. She appeared on stage in a flared mini dress over a pair of spandex bikers' pants, put her face into the microphone, and sang with spine-tingling wild abandon from the beginning of the night to the end, barely changing her facial expression, and never acknowledging the presence of her audience.
Despite her aloofness, her voice and attitude made the connection with her listeners; and her weird singing/talking duets with the band's other vocalist, the eccentric and clownish Einar "Orn, made a riveting combination.
The subject matter of the Sugarcubes' songs (sung in English) is more than a little strange, and it isn't to every taste. At the World, as with so many live rock performances, the words were virtually incomprehensible, but you can hear them clearly on the album. A certain perversity comes out on songs like ``Mama,'' about an obsessive mother/child relationship, and ``Birthday,'' which, despite its wry sense of humor, hints at child molestation.
But musically, the Sugarcubes have an otherworldly mystery and magic that, combined with solid rock-and-roll technique, should carry them far.
Amy Duncan covers popular music for the Monitor.