14 Iced Bears "Hold On Inside" (Cherry Red)
It's reissue central at Cherry Red right now, what with the "Are You Scared To Get Happy?" mega-box set (it has Bubblegum Splash! on it = buy it), as well as the Brilliant Corners and Mighty Mighty recently having had the double-CD 'greatest hits treatment', but this release particularly excites us because it's from 14 Iced Bears, one of the bands whose corner we most distinctly remember fighting at school, alone and ranged against the shoegaze-worshipping hordes: in doing so, we were invariably outnumbered and laughed at, because of the band's name and the Sarah associations and the wimpiness of some our most treasured 14IB songs and, in one case, because Andy R. took umbrage at the singer's "receding hairline", but we didn't care then and we still love them now.
We shan't be too meticulous in our review, mind, because the lion's share of the tracks here appeared on the "In The Beginning" and "Let The Breeze Open Our Hearts" compilations, and we reviewed those in eye-wateringly copious detail many moons ago, and you'll have read those essays at the time (if you didn't, you'll just have to trust us when we tell you how essential and incisive they were :-)
In brief, though, "Hold On Inside" is a reverse-chronological retrospective of Brighton's finest ("1991-1986", as the sleeve has it), and works alarmingly well: you get drawn into their web by the didgeridoo-featuring second album "Wonder", starting with the bold, brilliant, *ignored* single "Hold On" but also featuring gems like "Smooth In The Sun", which achieves the oxymoronic distinction of being 'baggy', yet good; you get the Bears' (definitive) version of "Summer Nights", originally culled from one of those Imaginary compilations, I think; and then comes perhaps our favourite 14 Iced Bears number of all, the "World I Love" 45: fiery yet dreamy, a perfect combination of caustic, feral indie-pop and chaotic, agonised lysergic comedown, yet as *intensely*, heart-on-sleeve romantic as their songs that had slayed us in previous years.
And those songs soon follow on the second disc, which takes us back further; to the eponymous first LP as it switches gorgeously from etched psychedelic twirl to twee ballad and back; to their one A-side "fail" (a little leadenly produced, "Mother Sleep"'s ambition is alas unmatched by its execution); to their excitable, full-of-spring-joys Sarah Records 7"; and to their earliest EPs of all, a run of singles first collected long ago on the "Precision" LP (a record replete with somewhat whimsical sleevenotes: "look upon this record as a golden opportunity for eternal happiness") and featuring such timeless pearls of indie popcraft as "Like A Dolphin", "Inside" and the peerless "Cut". These songs all take me back to a time when I *felt* the emotions so vividly and helplessly, but still have so much residual beauty that I swear they would slay me today, even had I never felt a single teenage sensation.
At this distance of years, it occurs to us that 14 Iced Bears' greatness flows not only from the fact that (unlike many of their contemporaries) they produced both fine singles and fine albums, but also from the fact that as their sound evolved, the quality only rarely faltered. Whether or not there was a hint of bandwagon-jumping as their anorak pop turned into expansive and swirlsome, acid-tinged indie-rock, the Bears were a band who took you with them (well, took a few of us with them: no-one else cared in the common room). But the existence of "Hold On Inside" is hopefully a demonstration that people care now, at least, and proof in our eyes, biased as we may be, that the chansons of 14 Iced Bears still hit the mark today.
Um, we'll repeat just one anecdote. Watching the Bears play Camden, 1991-ish, a powered-up set of newies anchored by "Hold On" et al. A wag in front of us shouts for "Cut". "What did you call me?" responds Rob. Smiles all round. Maybe you had to be there. No, hang on: this was 14 Iced Bears, live and in their prime. You definitely should have been there.
in love with these times, in spite of these times' 14 Iced Bears top ten: Sure To See. Cut. World I Love. Hold On. Inside. Eyes. Hay Fever. Like A Dolphin. Summer Nights. Lie To Choose.