Various Artists

Poppsaga: Iceland's Pop Scene 1972-1977

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Long before bands like the Sugarcubes, Sigur Rós, and Of Monsters and Men became known on the world's stage, Icelandic pop acts like Change and Pelican did their best to launch careers outside of their remote country's rocky shores. In the 1970s, the island's small scene largely consisted of bands playing American and British rock covers at local balls. If bands wanted to make a real go of it with original material, their options were quickly exhausted and required journeys abroad to record their music and try to convince foreign labels to take a chance on them. This colorful era of Icelandic pop is documented on Poppsaga: Iceland's Pop Scene 1972-1977, a 19-song collection of rare cuts by bands who wanted desperately to be the next Savoy Brown, Free, or Sweet. As is the nature in small artistic communities, everybody played with everybody else and many of the bands featured on this compilation are slightly rearranged variations of each other. Following the breakup of Svanfríður ("Woman of Our Day" and the excellent acoustic ballad "What's Hidden There"), the various members formed Change (whose bubblegum single "Yaketty Yak, Smacketty Smack" comes off like a less-memorable Tommy Roe) and Pelican (who did fairly able take on the Move's power pop sound with "Jenny Darling"). Further down the chain, singer Pétur Kristjánsson, after getting sacked from an American-label-hungry Pelican, formed the hard rock group Paradís (the strange single "Rabbits") and then Poker (whose single "Driving in the City" sports the even stranger, passionately sung chorus "What did you do with your eyebrows? Baby, don't go!"). For aficionados of unusual rock compilations and mid-'70s pop curiosities, Poppsaga is certainly a fun listen and Dr. Gunni's liner notes are informative and totally entertaining. Still, most of the tracks here feel like second-tier versions of the era's popular styles and offer no real cultural distinction that would identify them as Icelandic. Had they received better distribution or exposure, some of these songs might have had a chance in bigger markets, but by and large, the music on Poppsaga is fun, but underwhelming.

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