The Ike Reilly Assassination
We Belong to the
Rock Ridge Music
When I try to compare the men in Ike Reilly's songs—drunk, faithless, and failed, every one—to characters in American fiction (I'm thinking Updike's long-suffering high school teacher Caldwell, from The Centaur), he stops me with a chuckle. The self-deprecating indie rocker says he doesn't really consider himself on the same plane with all that literary stuff. "I write three-minute rock songs," he says.
But he's underselling himself. With his band, the Ike Reilly Assassination, he creates throat-grabbing music with stomping, manic energy and big sing-along choruses. And between the hooks, his lyrics—sometimes bellowed to the back of the room, sometimes barely hissed between teeth—speak tenderly of losers and has-beens hemmed in on all sides by drugs, love, politics, and religion.
And the IRA's latest offering, We Belong to the Staggering Evening, is a return to hard-driving rock, although early on, Reilly was considering making another album as slick and polished as the band's previous, Junkie Faithful.
"But then I said, 'Fuck it, let's just go for a roadhouse kinda feel,'" he says. And with grinding guitars, thinner vocals, and thrashy melodies, the album sounds much more like the band's frenetic live performances than an overproduced studio release.
Reilly says he wanted the album to "paint a picture of celebratory darkness," and the first cut, "8 More Days Till the 4th of July," kicks that theme off with a cheerful rockabilly-punk battle between good and evil (complete with a Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano breakdown). "Well Jesus made me/Can Jesus save me if I open up my heart?" Reilly hollers. "But the Devil plays me/He tempts and sways me, he's been lurking here from the start."
The album rolls on with tracks that drink to the beauty of bar fights and un-beautiful women; it calls for the tolerance of cultural differences with all the grace of a pickup line, and spins yarns of real-estate swindles, labor struggles, and the broken dreams that come after them. Over the whole album hangs a haze of magical realism, as if Reilly's characters all live a little removed from the known world.
But almost overshadowing the entire CD is Reilly's three-four eulogy to American soldiers, "Broken Parakeet Blues." Coming in suddenly after five tracks of rock, the quiet acoustic number downshifts abruptly, highlighting Reilly's scratchy, mournful tenor. The rest of the album sounds like an Irish wake, but this is a somber graveside farewell, as he imagines the soldiers on their way to die—"Out of Twentynine Palms the buses kept creeping/Right through the desert and out to the shore/Twentynine Palms won't see 'em no more."
A lot of critics have called Reilly a political songwriter, citing anti-establishment themes in his music and a tendency to root for the little guy. But though he admits the political angle must be there "because people keep pointing it out," he says he doesn't think about his music that way. "I just think about people who have too much money—who should, who shouldn't. Maybe I'm too much of a pussy." But it's just that unwillingness to take a political side, to focus instead on the people affected by politics, that makes his songs resonate above a cacophony of limp-wristed peace-rock and flag-waving country music.
And though Reilly rags on himself throughout the interview, it's obvious he doesn't suffer from a lack of pride in his music. Toward the end, I start to ask if, after four albums, two EPs, and a few different record labels, he's getting a little frustrated that the IRA's never really made it big. I fumble for a graceful way to phrase the question, and he breaks in.
"Are you asking if I'm pissed that we're not big stars?" he laughs. "Yes. We're a great rock 'n' roll band who deserve great success and tons of money."
The Ike Reilly Assassination - Friday, June 29 - The Cabooze - 612.338.6425