It's somewhat difficult to give a review to the Irrepressibles' debut, Mirror Mirror, without pointing out a few things. Firstly, this is not an indie release - despite its categorization here on the site. In fact, it's incredibly difficult to give this band a specific genre. On Mirror Mirror, the Irrepressibles embrace Broadway in such a shameless fashion that it feels original in that right alone. Everything is incredibly over the top, from vocalist Jamie McDermott's incessant (but effective, given the obvious aims) vibrato, the extreme scales, and most obviously, the presentation, which would put the drama and excess of any average operetta to shame. Hell, with the chamber pop-meets-cabaret template used on Mirror Mirror, it genuinely feels like an operetta, from the flow of the songs to the structure of the very tracks themselves.
"My friend Jo is a crazy bitch," McDermott blithely declares on the opening My Friend Jo, and so begins Mirror Mirror, letting you know right away just what kind of album it is - somewhat effeminate and intensely flamboyant. McDermott's vocals employ heavy emphasis on falsetto and vibrato are a huge part of this, at times resembling Antony Hegarty's quirky delivery. Interestingly, he also resembles Danny Elfman to an extent, particularly when his soaring vocal switches gears into a controlled shout, or his more breathy moments; Jo and Knife Song being perfect examples of the former, Anvil of the latter, and Nuclear Skies of both. Another tie to more operatic singing is McDermott's constant use of scales for vocal melodies. As far as notes go, his voice rarely stays in the same place, and it always feels as if he's making some sort of progression. It's not difficult to see how it could be a bit much for some, but with as well as he does it and as good as his voice is, one could get lost in it quite easily.
The thing about the band's style is that like an operetta's soundtrack, there are no real traditional hooks or melodies, with dramatic musical flourishes and traveling up and down scales taking precedence. Splish! Splash! Sploo! is a great example of the structure these songs follow; it begins with McDermott singing over an acoustic guitar, and with the exception of his voice's excessive quiver as he Moulin Rouge-ingly quotes I Can't Help (Falling in Love with You), it sounds fairly traditional. After about forty seconds of this, in bursts a fit of cymbals, contrasting violins and cellos, and McDermott's wildly flailing voice, with background vocals bouncing off of his lead. The melody is very brief and rests more of the lush beauty of the arrangement (which truthfully is quite beautiful) than anything else, and that's more or less what passes for a chorus. Additionally, from that point onward no earlier point of the song is entirely revisited, again underlining the music's emphasis on the texture of the instrumentation rather than simple hooks.
Mirror Mirror's flow is also highly operatic, particularly the middle section. Forget the Past, Knife Song, and My Witness blend into each other so well that it would be forgivable to think that they were all part of the same song upon first listen. The whole album does a stellar job of maintaining the same mood, but that's not to say that it's without its dynamics. While the theme of lost love is almost constantly present, the lush music runs the gamut from somberness to congeniality in such a smooth fashion that they fit incredibly well together. The build ups are a huge standout as well, as frequent as they are expertly crafted, and they do a fantastic job of keeping things from getting too monotonous.
Mirror Mirror is definitely not going to appeal to most; the extremely theatrical nature alone will drive most away. The Irrepressibles' sound is definitely one crafted for appreciators of opera as well as chamber pop, which narrows their potential audience considerably but makes their music no less satisfying for those who can enjoy it. Given the somewhat polarizing style, this isn't an album that is likely to grow on anyone - either you like this kind of thing or you don't. If you don't, McDermott's voice and the musical flourishes will probably just irritate you. If you do, however, you're in for a treat - the band embraces these dramatic traits very convincingly and skillfully, and while it's certainly excessive, neither the band nor their fans would have it any other way.