2003 – Ruth Street Records
Now defunct Brisbane based alternative pop-rock outfit Iron On’s debut EP The Understudy is a nicely quirky mix of ethereal female vocals, solid guitar rock, pounding drum beats, and grungy energy, but really The Understudy seems… well… too studied. I mean, the opening track Ruddy is just that perfect mixture of approximate messiness of playing, thrashing crash symbols, and pop inflected vocals that makes the critics wet their panties, and I’ve got to tell you that I’m really not that kind of critic.
The other tracks continue on with this vein of mass ‘alternative’ appeal referencing all the hip ‘indie’ bands of the last fifteen or so years with the R.E.M sounding melody of Best Or Less and the obviously ‘accidental’ muddiness of the opening to Old Cat. Really, nothing on here excited me at all despite the fact that it all sounded exactly like the kind of thing I should like, and think that’s precisely where the problem lies. Everything just sounds so calculated and whatever elements of spontaneity might have originally been in this small collection of tracks departed long before the recording process for this EP ever started. I mean, Everything Takes Too Long starts off with a predictable bang and just at the right moment moves into its Sonic Youth styled feedback noise before having the riot grrrl punk backing vocals jump in, and then we are treated to the mandatory slow breakdown before an even more ‘energetic’ reprisal of the opening melody. Come on! Did you really think I was going to fall for that?
Perhaps, however, I am being a bit too harsh. The music itself is decent and there are no particularly glaring problems with the band or the EP’s production, it’s just that I couldn’t really bring myself to care about The Understudy even a little bit. I guess the record works fine as background music or as a welcome sprinkle of pepper to a nineties (despite the fact that it was released in the early 2000s) alternative playlist, but listening to the thing from start to finish with a serious ear turned towards it is not advisable. There’s just nothing in it to latch on to and actually take seriously. You just put it on and it plays and then it finishes and nothing at all has been gained from the experience.
Perhaps this astounding average-ness is why the group only managed to put out one full album after the critical success of their three EPs. I mean, it’s only a matter of time before people find out that you have no originality. Five tracks might not be quite enough to figure that out, but a full ten track album would probably be enough to make all the indie fans feel a little bit betrayed.
So, in conclusion I’ve got to say that I really was not impressed with this release, especially after hearing so many good things about this group from the ever nurturing critics of the contemporary Brisbane scene. I was bored and underwhelmed the whole way through, and that is definitely not a good sign for a debut EP. Once again, however, I will say that nothing on The Understudy is actually bad per se; rather, it’s just so okay that it’s nondescript. Either way I still wouldn’t recommend it as anything that needs to be listened to.
And here is the opening track from The Understudy: Ruddy.