Salesmen and Racists
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11
Written by T.J. Simon
Ike Reilly is either the most pleasant sounding punk rocker in the business or the hardest edged pop artist in recent memory. How can a CD this pretty have a Parental Advisory sticker on the front? How can such raw punk make you tap your toes so readily? Within this dichotomy lies the sheer brilliance of Reilly's solo debut Salesmen and Racists.
First, a bit of history: Back when he was Mike Reilly, he was a guitarist for Chicago's Celtic rock ensemble The Drovers. From there, he formed a band called The Eisenhowers, changing his handle from Mike into Ike (get it?). The early '90s found Reilly fronting a bar band called Community #9, featuring original compositions and covers of accessible punk tunes such as The Clash's Police on My Back. The group had a reasonably decent local following, but there were no illusions regarding Reilly's local journeyman status. Sometime around 1993, Reilly disappeared altogether from the Chicago music scene. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he resurfaced this summer with one of the year's finest albums on a big-daddy corporate label, leaving all but a few Chicago music pundits wondering, "Where did this guy come from?"
Salesmen and Racists begins with Last Time — the most infectious song you'll never hear on commercial radio. Here, Reilly roasts pinheads of all shapes and sizes whose sins are forgiven because of their humor. Another major bright spot is Commie Drives a Nova, in which Reilly calls out hypocrite leftists. This up-tempo number has an amazing bridge that chronicles the female commie's increasing girth in terms of pro-boxing divisions. "She went from featherweight to flyweight to bantamweight ..." and so on up the scale.
There's no question that Reilly's songs contain some salty language, but radio edits would ruin his lyrical brilliance. Throughout Salesmen and Racists, the story is the same, Reilly lays out his plot, utilizing language plucked from real life conversations — no holds barred, no punches pulled. These tunes are laced with candid cynicism, yet you'll immediately find yourself humming them for hours, and his wit and composition skills become further evident as the album is played again and again to pleasing results.
Musically speaking, Reilly is a tough guy to pigeonhole. The influence of Bob Dylan's electric work pervades Salesmen and Racists, particularly on Crave and on My Wasted Friends, which puts a cleverly different spin on the Irish drinking song. Put a Little Love in It could have been a modern day John Lennon mutation and Duty Free sounds a lot like the Ramones sung with clear, understandable lyrics. Paul Westerberg and Everclear also come to mind as more contemporary comparisons to Reilly's sound.
If any criticism is to be made of Salesmen and Racists, it's that the album sags a bit on the last few tracks. That said, the weakest ditties on this CD blow away most of the garbage on the market today. Drop everything and buy this release. Heck, buy two copies, give one to a stranger, and make a friend for life.
Salesmen and Racists is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box