Iron Hero

Safe as Houses

(Self-released; 2006)

By David Greenwald | 28 July 2006

“The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”
-Bruce Springsteen

The fields of battle are littered with corpses, blood still fresh on their battered bodies. The very noblest have already been lost: there lies Interpol, felled by a treacherous sophomore album; nearby, Hot Hot Heat and Franz Ferdinand, slain by the same landmine. Others have abandoned the fight: Liars have run off deep into the woods, while Q and Not U simply disbanded, afraid of the red badge emblazoned on their compatriots. Still, those who remain struggle forward, grasping at desperate straws and forgoing their own purpose in the process. The Killers, hoping an older influence will halt the bloodshed, have invoked the name of The Boss himself – and in doing so, offered an unknowing surrender.

With no epic last stand or charismatic leader to call the troops to arms, the ‘80s revival is all but over. But the resurgence was hardly triumphant in the first place: while garage rock’s commercial success paved the way for indie bands to tiptoe into the mainstream, the staying power of the once-proud new New York New Wavers has been considerably weaker. Though Interpol, the less authentic Killers and a few others certainly found a short-lived window of popularity, Pop Music (that fickle mistress!) seems to have left them for dead and moved on to urban pop amalgams like Gnarls Barkley and Nelly Furtado. All of which means that retro-rock is back underground, and to extend the metaphor one step further, on to guerilla warfare.

The movement -- if it ever was one -- is beyond saving at this point, but bands are certainly trying to keep it alive. This year has seen the attempts of I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (failure), Division Day (laudable) and now, the suitably named subject of this review, Iron Hero. Safe As Houses is the six-piece group’s debut album. Breaking from an entirely different scene, the Athens, Georgia band has no sonic affiliations with the long-running Elephant 6 collective. Instead, these are dark, intricate songs born of post-punk mothers and synthesizer dads. Most are fast-moving compositions as complex as they are pulse-pounding, played by a band with sizable technical abilities. These are visceral songs, wiry if not Wire-taut. The heart-racing pace is effective, especially when early tracks “Pilot” and “Heart of a Ghost” crescendo into heavy waves of static and the more restrained “Bomb Shelter” explodes into dynamic riffing.

The hooks never take a strong hold, though, and songs like “Wearing A Wire” and “Heart of a Ghost” could use a stronger melodic foundation. The band has the chops, but often the music feels aimless, trapped inside its own interplay between verses and choruses. Even when the songs put on the brakes, as on “Terms/Conditions,” the lush backdrop can’t stop feeling a tad busy. Take the instrumental “Sleepy Eyes”; it’s the album’s prettiest two minutes, flecked with electronics and focused around simple melodies, but it’s still sadly caked in distractions. Still, Safe As Houses is a record with plenty of appeal for those willing to submerge themselves within its depths. Iron Hero may not be quite the armor-clad savior the gasping scene needs, but maybe some styles are best left to the shrines for their originators. After all, with fresh batches of Cure and Jesus and Mary Chain reissues released more often than Morrissey protests seal killings, the 1980s are hardly in danger of being forgotten.