The nice thing about not experiencing things until many years after they initially occurred is that you can assess them based on their aggregate track record and see if they held up over time rather than get caught up in the initial hype and then peer back through rose-colored lenses, seeing only darkly. Such is the case with the CD compilation “On the Charts: I.R.S. Records 1979-1994. The once hallowed Ground Zero for many of the acts that played on the stage of what came to be known as Alternative, I.R.S. Records is now consigned to the dustbin of history. But the music lives on—at least some of it. Other parts have more in common with the AMC TV series “The Walking Dead.” Having nearly untainted non-memories of the music on this release, I relished the chance to take it for a spin.
There are the usual suspects on this disc such as Go-Go’s, R.E.M. and Oingo Boingo. However, some one-hit wonders and cult favorites also managed to elbow their way onto this platter including Wall of Voodoo, Timbuk 3 and The Alarm. Being a usual suspect, as one would suspect is not necessarily a good thing. For Go-Go’s and Belinda Carlisle (Go-Go’s lead singer as a solo act), being a usual suspect only breeds contempt with more familiarity. On the “Our Lips are Sealed” cut Go-Go’s seem stuck-stuck in the teen-angst ridden 80s crooning out their siren song to the junior high school students at the end of the stagflation era. The song was probably better before I knew all the lyrics. Carlisle’s venture on her own on “Mad About You” just seems sad now, which is an improvement over the pathetic categorization of when it was issued. What little street cred Carlisle built up during the short lifetime of Go-Go’s was completely squandered on this total sellout designed to cash in on the mid-80s boomlet of girl pop from the likes of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
More refreshing is how R.E.M. has endured on their breakout “The One I Love,” the guitar lines ringing out crisp and true as the day they were recorded. Even Michael Stipe’s limited vocals have aged well like wine. Oingo Boingo is a bit of an in-betweener. Not a smash hit machine like Go-Go’s or R.E.M. but neither were they unfamiliar with heavy radio rotation. Having had more success later on about the time of their appearance in the Rodney Dangerfield guilty pleasure comedy “Back to School” as the house band at the dorm party before leader Danny Elfman departed for full-time movie scoring in Hollywood, this disc goes back to their early period for “Only a Lad.” On this one, Elfman’s intelligent lyrics are very much in evidence against the thieving pyromaniac Johnny Boy, the en-titled “lad.”
Wall of Voodoo’s MTV favorite “Mexican Radio” still retains all the novelty of when it first graced the airwaves—can you ever forget the line “I wish I was in Tijuana | Eating barbequed iguana” once you've heard it? Meanwhile, duo Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” is still as clever as ever and nearly as hard to resist following along singing the chorus “Things are goin' great | And they're only gettin' better.” Which brings me to a song I’d nearly forgotten and am the better for remembering, The Alarm’s “Rain in the Summertime.” It came as a revelation, nearly a secular prayer, the drums and bass taking me away to the heavens as they open up. Not a bad performance from the group once burdened by the sobriquet “the poor man’s U2.”