My first exposure to Q4U was on the Rokk Í Reykjavík record, and they pulled the impressive feat of sticking out on a compilation that included a lot of great bands. Their style is that perfect marriage of punk as it transitioned into new wave at the start of the 1980s, that brief moment in musical time that just begged for an aggressive female singer, and Q4U had one in Elínborg Halldórsdóttir, who actually makes me think of a punk rock Cyndi Lauper…. which may make you love her hate her unfairly without even ever having heard her, but I mean it as a compliment.
Q4U’s debut album and only release on vinyl, Q1, came out in 1982 and it’s basically one of those “holy grail” type records for Icelandic music. There are actually three copies for sale on Discogs as I write this, ranging in price from $165 to $240. I asked around for it when I was in Reykjavik a few months ago but came away with nothing more than snorts and head shakes. So when I found out that Q1 was being re-released this year with a whole slew of additional tracks I was pretty stoked, and I bought the first copy I came across on eBay from Ear Candy Music in Montana. Which makes sense, because when I think of early Icelandic punk the first place I think of is Reykjavik, and Missoula is a close second. But somebody obviously has good taste and knows their stuff.
Q1 Deluxe Edition 1980-1983 has 16 tracks, including six of the seven songs from the original release (for some reason “Odur” doesn’t seem to have made the cut). Those first six tracks are well recorded and incorporate some interesting sounds, including a few notes from a Christmas song I can’t seem to place and some kind of tune played by a jewelry box. The last two songs on side A are a lot more raw, rehearsal recordings that originally appeared on the band’s 1982 cassette only release Skaf Í Dag and these, unlike the others on this side, are both in English. The beats are more driving here – it’s less out-there-arty and more structured and driving, but still keeping that intensity that is the band’s hallmark.
Side B is also a mix of songs from 1982-83, including both studio and rehearsal recordings. “Miracle Man” is the cleanest, most radio-friendly sounding song on the record – it sounds like something that could have made it onto MTV or the radio station I used to listen to when I lived in South Carolina in the early 80s, something I could have rocked out to in my bedroom while dancing around in my black parachute pants. It probably would have been part of a song block wedged in between “Mental Hopscotch” by Missing Persons and Berlin’s “Riding on the Metro,” though to be fair I probably wouldn’t have liked it at the time as I wanted my new wave more polished and poppy a la Flock of Seagulls or Soft Cell. The Fixx was probably as crazy as I would have gotten (I nearly wore out my 45 of “Saved by Zero”) back then. My interest in new wave faded pretty fast once I discovered Quiet Riot and Ratt, but I could have ended up in either direction – such things often depend on what you’re friends are into, and my friends who liked music were into the hair metal scene, so…
But I digress. Actually I kind of went off the rails there a bit, but whatever. Q4U. They’re fantastic and probably not like a lot else you’ve heard before unless you were heavy into the early post-punk/new wave scene and had broad tastes. But even if you were and did, you probably haven’t heard Q4U, and with this new release the band hasn’t been this affordable on vinyl since 1982. In Reykjavik. So do yourself a favor and check out Q1 Deluxe Edition 1980-1983. If you’re not a vinyl junkie luddite like me, you can even get it on iTunes delivered right to your computer for only $9.99, which you’ll probably have to do if you live in Missoula because I bought the vinyl the record store there was carrying. Sorry about that. Of course, if you’re smart you’ll actually buy Q4U: Best Of instead, because for the same $9.99 price you get all the songs off Deluxe Edition plus six more studio tracks and six live songs. That’s something crazy like $0.40 per song! Either way, iTunes is a great way to check out Q4U. You’re online already, so just go do it!