Review Summary: Probably one of the ultimate albums, if not THE ultimate album, in the history of Polish rock.
The beginning of the nineties was a time of hope for Poland – the central-eastern European country had just escaped from being a Soviet-controlled communist republic and the perspectives of development were huge. After decades of being controlled by a one-party government, decades of waiting in lines after scraps, decades of no hope for a better tomorrow, Poland was finally free. Of course, the country was still ridiculously poor, but it seemed that a better life is just around the corner...
In 1989, the same year that the first free parliament elections after the war took place, an unknown hard rock band by the name if IRA popped a measly, self-titled debut album on a tiny label. The record was far from magnificent, the band didn't generate too big a fan base and the sales were disappointing. IRA was aware that if their second album would turn out to be a fluke as well, it would probably mean the end of the band's existence. A few line-up changes later (namely acquiring a second, more lead-inclined guitarist, swapping the bassist and booting the keys player), the band got a few loans to pay for a better studio and producer for the recording of their second album, Mój Dom.
The first major noticeable element is the radical stylistic change – the underwhelming 1989 debut showcased the group taking a poor stab at a slightly Mötley Crüe style of playing, creating weak, wannabe commercial tunes. On Mój Dom, IRA shifts towards a more powerful hard rock style, playing it with a certain grit that just can't be described. The music is filled with hope and belief in a better tomorrow, adding a certain punch to every track on the record, whether it's a subdued ballad, a jokey song about waking up after a night of heavy partying and finding a hot naked chick next to you, or the anthemic opener.
“Mój Dom” the song is significant enough to deserve its own paragraph – whilst the entire record quickly became a sensation, increasing the band's fan base exponentially, and maintained its reputation as a cult masterpiece over the years, “Mój Dom” the song was the flagship of the album, and it quickly became something of an unofficial anthem of the early 90's generation. It wasn't afraid to point out the flaws of the surrounding reality whilst at the same time expressing utter confidence in the future. The lyrics point out problems like a high unemployment rate, and even mention the option of fleeing to the USA, but by the time the singer transitions from the verse's semi-rapped bark to the powerful chorus's rasp-tinged singing with a short, yet concise “But I won't run away from here”
one can't help but feel a small surge of energy as an imagined, early 90's, enthusiastic concert crowd throws up their fists, as if on command... short and focused, the tune sports the perfect blend of heavy bite and irresistible, yet not blatantly commercial catchiness, the guitar work varying from the simple, toe-tapping riffing to the flurry of energetic soloing that hijacks the song at 1:30. Wonderful.
The remaining songs don't fall too far behind – let the fact that up to this day, seven of the eleven tracks remain setlist staples in spite of the band's plentiful, eight album back catalog speak for itself. The other tunes that seemed to earn the most respect (the fact that “Mój Dom” remains played is obvious) form a varied bunch – an energetic rocker maintaining the momentum of the opener (“Płonę”), the best, prettiest and most hope-filled three chord ballad ever, always sang by the whole crowd at live shows (“Nadzieja”), two start-soft-then-turn-ferocious cuts, one about escaping your problems and running away to an idealized California (“California”), the other sporting the aforementioned set of jokey lyrics penned in ten minutes (“Bierz Mnie”), the most determined ballad ever, dealing with the hard situation the band was in after their debut, its undeniable hooks earning IRA its first number one slot on Poland's most respected chart (“Nie Zatrzymam Się”), and an innocent, almost naïve, yet beautiful acoustic miniature wrapping the album up (“Twój Cały Świat”). IRA wasn't a one-trick pony – Mój Dom is a pleasantly varied album, supplying both rockers and ballads, and each song would have some identity setting it apart from the others as well as some undeniable catchiness that didn't reek of airplay plea, just made the tunes more likeable.
The songs seemingly not as appreciated (setlist omission) are by no means dangerous to the ears. “Spadam” is a fantastic rocker, at least on par with “Płonę” in my opinion. You can hear some heavier influence, especially in the riff backing the gigantic wah-drenched solo – a monstrous climax of the tune, and one of my favorite moments on the record. IRA would explore that side of their music later, and the heavy influence would indirectly spell their demise when they broke away from their accepted style with Znamię (album #4) and got smited for it. They never quite became the same again, opting for a more pop-rock approach, even when they reunited... returning to Mój Dom, “Miłość I Nienawiść” is also a livelier number, but the cold-feeling clean strummed chords sprinkled into the verse and particularly catchy melodies make this one stick out from the pack. It even had part of the fan base interested, but the band apparently never considered it anything more than album filler. “Nowe Życie” is a melancholic ballad, contrasting the gray everyday reality with a perfect world with no worries or troubles, making it delightfully unclear if it's just a sad daydream or an optimistic vision of the future... it even got into the respected chart, peaking at #7 (the lowest position of the five songs that made it there over the course of time). “Nie Uciekaj” is arguably the worst track on the album, lacking anything to make it come alive and sound at least a touch less workmanlike, it comes out somewhat disturbing when coming after the purposefully lifeless “Nowe Życie”. However, it's still a proper number, just lacking some identity and genuine kick. I'd probably like it more if it were done by another band or simply placed on another IRA album, but here it gets drowned by the pure awesomeness of the other tracks.
As mentioned earlier in the review, the band hired a better studio and producer than for the debut album. It really, really paid off – the juicy thickness of the sound was something unheard of in Poland back then, and IRA were actually accused of hiring session musicians in the USA to record the album for them. Whilst sound quality won't make a record alone, it certainly helps and makes this an even more pleasing listen. Needless to say, this was a huge step up from the options their debut album studio offered (leaving the quality out, there was no way to capture the drums and IRA the record features a drum machine) and IRA recorded three more albums there before breaking up around 1996.
Mój Dom is definitely one of the best records in the history of Polish rock, possibly the one sole greatest – it features superb songwriting and skilled musicianship, creating powerful, catchy, snarling hard rock tunes filled with a huge hope of a better tomorrow, a communism-less future in a developed, richer country. The newly recruited guitarist's knack for soloing, the refined songwriting (IRA finally found their own style, and didn't rely on cloning commercial acts that weren't that great in the first place) and wonderful production make this album exceed even the wildest dreams the guys might have had after their mediocre debut. They continued their success with 1993's 1993, but it's Mój Dom that would always remain the flagship IRA album. And rightly so.