I vividly remember the moment I realized that rock and roll was my music. It was in 1984, I was nine years old, and my family and I were eating an after church dinner at Pizza Hut. My dad had ordered his usual thin crust with everything on it minus the anchovies and my siblings and I were busy playing the games on the paper placemats while wishing that he had ordered a plain pepperoni pizza when over the round, ceiling speakers I heard Kenny Loggins sing the lyrics, “kick off the Sunday shoes.” I hated my Sunday shoes, and wanted desperately to kick them off. My conservative preacher father, of course, didn’t care what Kenny Loggins or anyone else thought about Sunday shoes; our family dressed up for church. That day in that Pizza Hut, I began to suspect that this forbidden music held the keys to my freedom and fun. From that point on, I embraced the contraband music I heard from restaurant juke boxes, coming from inside video arcades as I walked by, and through my illegal headphones plugged into a clock radio at night when my parents thought I was asleep. Not only did rock music speak to me, it was fun.
At some point in the early 90s, however, fun became derailed by whiny navel-gazing, and the rock and roll I listened to wove far less fun into its existentialism than Kenny Loggins had in 1984. Balance is good; unfortunately, since the early 90s, it seems that rock and roll has sacrificed a sense of lighthearted on the altar of self-importance. It may have given us some good music in the form of Radiohead, but I’m afraid that our full-tilt plunge into cynicism has also cost 21st century society an entertainment option that embraces the very thing that helps humans navigate the shit-storm called life – a healthy dose of fun. Granted, I just now began listening to Ike Reilly, so everything I just wrote may reflect the fact that I’ve been missing out on fun, smart rock and roll which, in turn, possibly makes all this a less insightful perspective on 21st century sociology than I’ve convinced myself that it is.
After wasting several days attempting to figure out how to review Muse’s Drones, I finally gave up and clicked on the Born on Fire promo link provided by Skye Media and Rock Ridge Music. It only took a couple of bars of the title track from Ike Reilly’s latest album to prompt my soul to rebel against the sticky morass of musical self-importance that I have been slowly sinking into since circa 1992. Ike Reilly’s Born on Fire gave me same thrill that I got back in 1984 listening to “Footloose.”
Born on Fire is Ike Reilly’s seventh studio album, which means that I have probably missed out on six engaging, lively, and entertaining albums over the past few years. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise; maybe I’ve been too self-introspectively immature to be able to appreciate smart, fun rock and roll. Maybe I’ve been so focused on proving my pretentious indie-art cred that I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my gluten-free brain around the truth that true art, good art, not only speaks for the oppressed, but can do so with balls-to-the-wall whimsy. Whatever the reason(s), I’m looking forward to being able to now work backwards through the Chicago musician’s catalog. At the moment, however, I’m excited to share Born on Fire with my friends, family, and whoever else reads this review.
Much is being made in the album’s press releases, and rightfully so, of Tom Morello’s contribution on “Paradise Lane.” Morello is a gifted guitarist, and in, the mid-ninties, I loved Rage Against the Machine as much as the next budding-socialist Gen X-er wearing Dr. Martens while smoking cloves and pretending it was weed. Hell, I still occasionally listen to Evil Empire. And I still like it, in large part due to the guitar work on the album. Morello’s cutting guitar wails are at peak sear on Reilly’s beautiful rock and roll ballad. It’s a great track, but it’s not my favorite song on Born on Fire.
If you’ve listened to Born on Fire and paid attention to the opening two paragraphs of this review, you can probably guess my favorite song from the album. Yep. “Do the Death Slide” earns that honor. The first time that boogie-woogie, rock-a-billy, part blues part ragtime, you-come-up-with-a-descriptor, old school rock and roll song with blistering harmonicas and a saxophone that explains why all the cool kids in my school wanted to play the sax began melting my speakers my kids began dancing and I began grinning. “Do the Death Slide” is the definition of fun rock and roll, and with the lively song, Ike Reilly demonstrates that fun is best enjoyed in the presence of musical virtuosity and lyrical nimbleness.
Born on Fire is an eleven track ode to a time when rock and roll was rock and roll. Actually, not “time,” but “times.” Ike Reilly has crafted an album that weaves in and out of the great epochs of rock, seamlessly weaves, I should add. And, while doing so, Born on Fire resists the urge to transcend 2015 in an “our music was better than your music” obnoxious lecturing way; Reilly manages to ground his music in the here and now – there’s a healthy bit of rustbelt gritty, grimy, realistic outlook on life to go with the grins. Born on Fire is an album that can be enjoyed and appreciated by most people who are paying attention to the world around them. Those who can’t enjoy it should still listen to it; they probably don’t enjoy much of anything anyway.
Purchase Born on Fire *here.*
 I’m not claiming that Radiohead has been the only band releasing good music over the last 20+ years. They just happened to have been the band that popped into my head while writing.
 Speaking of bloated, overly introspective, and no fun.