Those who enjoyed Part One of this list are in for a treat. Those who did not because their I.R.S. album(s) of choice were not represented will hopefully take solace in the appearance of said albums on Part Two, but it must be said that there were many, many more than ten I.R.S. releases that qualify as game changers, if not life-changers. Some, in fact, did not make this list, but are still worthy of a mention:
Urgh! A Music War features just about the entire IRS roster of artists and is a crash course in the wonderful musical universe that existed outside the mainstream in '81. Sadly, it was not released on I.R.S. Records.
The Bears' self-titled debut effort for I.R.S. offshoot PMRC proved once and for all that Adrian Belew is just as much of a stellar singer and writer of gorgeously Beatle-esque rock tunes as he is a purveyor of post-modern guitar work for the likes of Bowie, Talking Heads and Nine Inch Nails.
The Animals' 1983 effort Ark saw a band much of the rock world had written off return to startling form on their second full-scale reunion effort, picking up where the sorely underrated 1977 effort "Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted" had left off. Eric Burdon and Company not only tore the roof off on record, but also on the tour that followed.
the dB's early catalog finally saw proper U.S. release on I.R.S. in 1986, culminating with the release of the band's first album of new material in years. "The Sound of Music" shows the dB's dispensing with many of their more esoteric eccentricities in favor of a more rootsy rock sound not that far removed from the Insiders or The Rave-ups.
The Buzzcocks' "All Set" arrived just in time to act as a sort of brilliant last gasp by a once-iconic record label now dabbling in instrumental and heavy metal records.
It is odd that, while their fortunes declined in their native England, the English Beat hit their highest commercial peak in the U.S. with the I.R.S. release "Special Beat Service", which featured the now-classic MTV hits "Save It For Later" and "I Confess".
And now on with Part Two of our list, The 10 Best Albums I.R.S. ever released!
Fleshtones - Roman Gods
Want proof that print ads work? The sight of the band in full-on Roman regalia in the pages of Trouser Press magazine convinced this writer to buy their album. Somehow, from that one photo, I was able to formulate that this might be the band that I had waited for my entire childhood that would not only update the kitsch and cool of the Paul Revere & The Raiders aesthetic, but take it to the next level with a funky retro-modern twist.
Much to my surprise, the album was exactly as I imagined it to be, with impresario Peter Zaremba lurching and contorting himself into whatever character the song required. Suddenly, my B-52's albums had some stiff competition, but the 'Tones ultimately made quick work of Fred Schneider and company with their high-energy delivery of barn burners like "Stop Foolin' Around", "I've Gotta Change My Life" and the title cut.
Zaremba's natural exuberance and showmanship eventually led him to be named host of IRS's own series "The Cutting Edge" on MTV, which, in hindsight, was doing some amazingly fresh, out-of-the-box work in presenting new underground bands to a national audience. Too bad MTV seemed to only want to stick the show on late at night when the kids who would have had their worlds changed by it were off counting sheep.
The Cramps - Songs The Lord Taught Us
If ever there was a band who arrived fully formed, with both their look and sound completely in-place, and said everything they needed to say on their first album, it was the Cramps. That's not to say their subsequent records weren't littered with shambolic greatness, but this one just drips with the full authenticity of their being. As far as Cramps studio albums go, there is literally no other studio effort that comes close to capturing the band's spooky charm and ability to drive a groove six feet into the ground.
As if that's not enough, the production by one Alex Chilton (ex-Big Star, ex-Box Tops) only adds to the album's lo-fi genius, for lack of a better term, by capturing the band in their natural element and delivering it sans embellishment. The end result is a rollicking otherworldly roar that sounds freshly unearthed every time you hear it.
Lords of The New Church - self titled
Many a punk rock "supergroup" has formed with big names, big ambitions, and promises of rock super-stardom, only to fail to get out of the starting gate. The fact that a band comprised of such disparate personalities as those found in the Lords could manage to not only hold it together long enough to leave the studio with finished product, but with such ominously potent results was a feat in and of itself.
Stiv Bator(s) from the American punk band the Dead Boys had already tried hitching his wagon to Sham 69 and the Wanderers with little success. Brian James, meanwhile, was five years removed from his stint in the Damned, where he wrote a bulk of the band's first two albums, but had been reduced to support roles for the likes of Iggy Pop and The Saints.
From the opening salvo of "New Church" to the timelier-than-ever sentiment of "Russian Roulette" and "Holy War", this album remains a potent punk protest album that paints images with an almost cinematic quality. While subsequent albums Is Nothing Sacred? and The Method To Our Madness each had some truly riveting moments, their debut is a blistering manifesto that delivers the goods without interruption.
Let's Active - Cypress
Obviously due to his association with R.E.M., producer Mitch Easter had a sure "in" with I.R.S. when it came time to shop his own band and one couldn't blame I.R.S. for humoring the guy, but, as has so often been the case when I.R.S. chose to take such chances, the results were uniformly spectacular on the trio's masterfully accomplished full-length Cypress, which actually managed to top the glistening perfection of the Afoot EP.
For all of the accolades Easter has gotten for his production work, his songwriting remains almost criminally under-appreciated, as just about any song on this album proves. While "Every Word Means No" (from Afoot) was a a fresh blast of summer pop, "Waters Part" was the edgier, slightly more dangerous sequel that showed that this was a band capable of painting with a wide array of colors.
Sadly, the band quickly disintegrated during the promotional tour for this album, leaving Easter to pick up the pieces and continue on his own with 1986's Big Plans For Everybody.
R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
You probably expected to see Murmur get the nod, and don't think for a second I didn't write up two perfectly spectacular paragraphs as to why it might belong here, but then I took a good look in the mirror and knew that to be honest to this list, I couldn't choose Murmur in good conscience.
For all of its flaws that have taken on an almost mythic charm in the years since, Murmur was a promise of coming greatness; each listen acting as a faint hint at what the band could be if they "went for it", which, in my mind, meant embracing an edge closer to that of Jason & The Scorchers or drivin' and cryin'. "Do that," I would tell anyone who would listen, "and R.E.M. will be bigger than Ocean Pacific and Swatch combined!" (Hey, I was right!)
With the release of Lifes Rich Pageant, that promise was fulfilled and then some! See, while their singer came out of his shell, the rest of the band were gelling as a tight unit capable of "rocking out" when the mood called for it. The hooks got bigger, too. By the time they entered the studio with producer Don Gehman, one could even say they were "Cougar-esque"!
I mean, could you who adored Murmur have ever imagined that band cutting an arena rock album with Johnny Cougar's sonic sculptor? Leave it to R.E.M. to do so without sacrificing an ounce of their soul in the process. Thanks to them, the top of the charts became a fucking arty place to be for a few years.
Mind you, Lifes Rich Pageant wasn't a chart-topper, but the first time I heard "Fall On Me" on the radio, it was obvious that R.E.M. were gonna be huge. it was a great precursor to the break out album that followed in 1987 because it confirmed that the band had the goods and that their label, IRS Records, had laid the proper framework and had the right infrastructure in place to prove that they could do more than sell Go-Go's records.
Document was a great record to release when they did while LRP will remain the superior album that broke down the last walls of resistance. For we longtime R.E.M. fans, LRP was that last chance to smell the flowers, so to speak, before the place started crawling with mainstream kids.