March 2002By Stephanie Sollow
I must note that guitarist Nick Delonas sent this to me last July, so it has been patiently awaiting review for some time now.
Ah, where to begin? One needs four touchstones to describe the sound coming out of Ironia. The first touchstone is in three fragments -- one part Saga, one part Rush, and one part Pink Floyd. The second touchstone is also multi-faceted and includes one part Kansas, one part Eagles, and one part Doobie Bros. The third touchstone isn't really so identifiable ... but some words that come to mind are humorous, weird, odd, and eccentric. On this I will also say that the two tracks that fall into this latter category, "Underground Stealing" and "Toe Jam," could possibly find themselves on a Dr. Demento show (assuming there is still such a thing these days). Most likely, it would be the latter track in which a man shares the story of his wayward toe. Think of something out of either a Saturday Night Live skit ("I hate when that happens...") or Monty Python, maybe. And yet, like the most gruesome traffic accidents, you have to listen again -- "Did he really say that? What was that about?" The fourth touchstone draws from 70s pop styles, as we'll see in a moment.
In this third category, we find "Underground Stealing," a bubbly, quirky track (weird as "Toe Jam," but in a different way). Delonas' guitar tone here made me think of Brian May circa Jazz, and of his work on "Mustapha" specifically. Say, actually, let's go beyond just May, as, other than topically, this could easily be a Queen track (with a dash of Taco's rendition of "Puttin' On The Ritz"), though Zartler doesn't sound like Mercury. In answering the "but what is it about?" question, all I can say succinctly is that it is, in part, the odd ravings of a lunatic. But, given the religious subtext that runs through this album (an unintended theme for my reviews this month), I suppose it's someone who cannot see the truth (faith, God) -- thus the recurring references to glasses -- and has been corrupted by the bad influences of society.
These two anomalies aside, the rest of the album falls into the other three categories. In the first category we have the opening track "Chemical Moses," which is what we might hear if Saga and Rush had got together in the studio, letting Sadler take lead vocals, leaving Lee to pump away on his bass, only here it's Zartler and Art Hengst. The rest of Ironia are Chris Midkiff on keyboards and Jim Rilko on drums and percussion. If you keep Saga in mind always (if you are at all familiar with them), then you'll have a very good idea of the vocal elements. And yet, the very next track "Song of Parting" (not to do a track by track), is where Floyd will come to mind in the moody guitar playing and dark, brooding bass. What Floyd track specifically? "Hey You," is what comes to mind. "Crash" takes a lot of what has come before influence wise and makes it heavier, darker, and moodier. Certainly the lyrical content is darker - a car crash takes the life of a loved one ... all which makes my comment above all the more crass, I suppose.
The highlight of the album for me is "Around The Bend." This is such a warm, melodic track. Anyone who loves the arty, blusier aspects to southern rock will appreciate this. Delonas lets loose with a fiery, searing guitar solo. The band is very tight, very in sync. Everything is on for this track, vocals, performance, feeling. I love the transitions between the mellower verses and the choruses. I think of some of the extended stuff the Eagles were doing on One Of These Nights, though nothing here suggests the Eagles specifically. Speaking of eagles though, the spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd infuses "A Shepherd Of Eagles," if a little groovier (a la the Patrick Simmons lead Doobie Bros. tracks). "Rhino Racing" is an instrumental that is very Spock's Beard like - staccato, stuttered, parping keyboard passages is the key point there. (In the cover letter, Nick notes that the meter for this is 9/8). "God's Song" approaches the shimmering prog-metal style of Dream Theater, even down to the chiming guitar of Delonas. You need also think of Kansas and many other AOR bands that rocked the 80s with a big sound - Def Leppard, Whitesnake, etc., (without the Robert Plant-isms). Would there be irony in God sounding like a 80s rock god? And, um, with "Shackleton Perseveres," it's as if someone time traveled back to the mid-seventies, plucked a young Michael Jackson up and, at first, deposited him in the studio with America (think of the acoustic guitar of the intro of "Sister Golden Hair" with much more bass). Then later scooped them all up, plopping them down in the present in the studio that for some reason had a funky, kettle-drum based prog band, French TV, and The Flower Kings all working together to create a single piece of cheerfully upbeat music. The song itself is about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Now, this leads us to the fourth element to the Ironia sound, as the above track kind of bridges this and the second elements. In "Life is Hard," vocalist Paul Zartler, sings very sweetly, in a very upbeat kind of way. Okay, he'll hate me probably for saying this, but this is the kind of song we might find from the likes of Mariah Carey. Not that Zartler sounds like Carey mind you. And perhaps because I recently saw the film, but it makes me think of one of the few original tracks in Moulin Rouge. Perhaps it's only the lyric "come what may," but then again, the whole mood and feel of it would fit, too. Yet, this was recorded and released prior to the film, so it's just one of those...weird things. The intro to this track is quite spacey and psychedelic though. One could say the same -- the Carey comment - about the equally sweet "Ocean of Love." I find these latter two tracks just way too sweet, in that 'Nsync kind of way. I want to say in that girly-guy kind way...wimpy, I guess mean (as I'm not suggesting gay, here). There aren't the dance-beats here that would make it even more...unappealing. I don't know, there's something very unsettling about guys are who are too expressive about their affections --- they're usually the ones who one finds out later are possessive and violent psychos. Not that I speak from experience, mind you, as the guys I've dated have been of the rather reticent sort -- and though there's slim chance they might be reading this, I'll say nothing further -- besides this is about Ironia, not me. At any rate, the outpouring of affection here is directed towards God, though work as well (in their way) as secular tracks.