When Dublin’s JJ72 first emerged in 1999, they seemed to inspire both a loyal army of followers and a dedicated band of detractors. Here at last, cried their champions, were a group of talented Irish youngsters who proved you don’t have to go down the Westlife route to be a success. A huge, intense sound and the remarkable voice of Mark Greaney led some to claim that JJ72 were one of the most promising bands around. The band’s critics, on the other hand, derided them as a bunch of Placebo or Muse copyists, and cited Greaney’s voice as exactly the reason they could be unlistenable at times.
The truth, as ever, falls somewhere between the two camps. The debut album was impressive in parts, but the singles tended to be the stand out tracks. However, despite some filler, they certainly showed a lot of promise.
A promise that is more than fulfilled on the follow up, I To Sky. Listening to the first single to be taken from the album Formulae, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed in JJ72’s world. An catchy guitar riff leads into the gentle verse before Mark Greaney whispers “Things go wrong when I trust them…in my naïve way I love them”, before bursting into a typically intense chorus.
As ever, it’s Greaney’s vocals that will decide whether you’ll love this album. He’s been compared to a chipmunk on helium but that’s slightly unfair. It’s fine on one of the quieter tracks, such as Brother Sleep, but when the band let rip, Greaney tends to move up a gear into a screech. There’s no denying he puts his heart and soul into it (after all, this is the man who made the line “why won’t it snow, like they said it would?” sound like the most harrowing thing on Earth), but that much intensity could grate on the uninitiated after a while.
Luckily, the songs this time are good enough to carry it off. Brother Sleep is a lovely acoustic ballad with some dark lyrics (“Is it this sleep that is the brother of death?”), but an ultimately uplifting message with a chorus of “I’m going to see you through this, my love”. Always And Forever is a contender for a future single, with its echoes of early U2, and upbeat chorus that’s more infectious than several industrial diseases.
Elsewhere, tracks such as I Saw A Prayer and Sinking confirm that this is a huge step up for JJ72. Maybe it’s the influence of legendary producers Flood and Alan Moulder. Their previous credits include The Smashing Pumpkins and Depeche Mode, and I To Sky is certainly accomplished enough to stand comparison to those names. If they keep on this trajectory, the sky’s the limit.