Donnie Iris

The Best of Donnie Iris: The Millennium Collection (MCA)

According to this CD's liner notes, the 55-year-old Iris is "still electrifying audiences today." If that's the case, one wonders why this collection was deemed necessary at all. With teenagers' belly rings and gangbangers' banter dominating the music market, it's not like the singer's legacy screams for a revisiting, much less a reinterpretation, of the type that in death is afforded even the most mediocre artists. And if mediocrity has a name, it's Donnie Iris.

This is not to say his oeuvre -- a geek-driven brand of rock propelled by the singer's trademark wall of vocal harmonies -- is a bad one. The early '80s hits "Ah! Leah!" and "Love Is Like a Rock" strike an eminently serviceable balance between romantic longing and the type of corn-fed guitar crunch that still packs 'em in far beyond Iris's hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Nearly as effective is "I Can't Hear You," which the versatile vocalist delivers in an Elvis-like croon over musical accompaniment that recalls the more whimsical work of Todd Rundgren. Beyond these cuts, however, the pickings grow mighty slim, mainly because Iris is too busy wearing his influences on his sleeve to craft an identity of his own. For starters, his horn-rimmed specs are a direct nod to Buddy Holly and the young Elvis Costello, while his music mimics everyone from the Police (see "Sweet Merilee") to the Raspberries (see "That's the Way Love Ought to Be" and "Tough World"). "My Girl," on the other hand, a slab of doo-wop drivel, became one of Iris's biggest hits only because it reminded listeners of the long-dead John Lennon.

While these cuts are merely forgettable, the dated-in-its-day "Do You Compute?" is downright laughable. Worse yet are the '70 singles "The Rapper," which has always sounded as annoying as the transparent Romeo of its narrative, and "Agnes," a good guy/bad girl ballad whose namesake would stick in even the most accomplished warbler's throat like a hairball. Aside from the generic nature of Iris's compositions (many of which were written with fellow Wild Cherry alum Mark Avsec), there's the matter of Iris's singing, a living testament to the axiom "less is more." While Iris and his band were clearly trying to create a sonic signature through the endless overdubs that propel every chorus the vocalist ever got his larynx on, the overall effect is to render these passages virtually indistinguishable from one another. Hey, Donnie -- let the other geeks sing once in a while.

 
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