Dublin trio JJ72 enjoyed a couple of weeks of buzz in the early 21st century. Their dramatic guitar rock slotted nicely alongside such likeminded post-Radiohead combos as Coldplay, Travis and Doves; they had a distinctive vocalist in Mark Greaney, with a voice mixing Feargal Sharkey and Katharine Hepburn; and actress-turned-bassist Hilary Woods was a minor UK alt-rock sex symbol. On the other side of the ledger, the band name was lousy (and never explained), struggles with their label, a lack of truly killer material and a glut of sincere British Isles guitar combos made blocked them from making it.
The self-titled debut begins promisingly with the single “October Swimmer,” which starts quietly and builds to a rousing chorus. That’s followed by “Undercover Angel,” which starts quietly and builds to a rousing chorus. Next up is “Oxygen,” which starts quietly and builds to a rousing chorus. You get the drift. There’s nothing wrong with the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic (after all, the Pixies built Nirvana’s entire career on that template), but virtually the same chorus is reused throughout JJ72. Only the Placebo soundalike “Long Way South,” the similarly rocking “Algeria” and the waltz-time “Not Like You” break the mold. The musicianship is excellent, Greaney’s voice is unusual but not unpleasant, and if one song is going to be done nine times at least it’s a pretty good one. But the relative paucity of ideas ends up hobbling JJ72 to a significant degree.
“Nameless”, the quiet piano ballad that opens I to Sky, demonstrates that JJ72 has broadened its range. Rousing choruses still abound, but the band, with significant help from producer Flood, has a better feel for structure, allowing the songs to build subtly instead of spelling it out quite so blatantly. For the first part of the album, Greaney’s vocals are so delicate that it’s not immediately apparent if it’s him or bassist Woods singing. On “I Saw a Prayer,” Greaney duets with someone, either the bassist or a falsetto version of himself.
The genuine promise JJ72 was beginning to show on I to Sky went largely unfulfilled as things went south for the trio thereafter. A third album was reportedly completed but ran into a prolonged label dispute. Woods departed, leaving Greaney and drummer Fergal Matthews to continue the legal standoff alone until they folded the band in 2006.