Steele's stylishness verges on nostalgia more often than even he knows. A lot of his sound owes a steep debt to 1980s British new wave. You can hear many of the era's well-known troubadours in his suave, melancholy voice: Human League's Philip Oakey? Yup. Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley? Uh-huh. Dave Wakeling (the General Public Wakeling, not the English Beat Wakeling)? You betcha.
The first three tracks on IRIS find Steele coolly developing a lackadaisical, funk/soft jazz fusion. At its core, the music is adult contemporary -- the kind of music the pre-irony VH1 played before it started making bad movies about its most intriguing Behind the Music subjects, the kind of music boomer yups would slide into the Technics in the loft while sipping on some white zin after a hard day peddling junk bonds.
He downshifts further with his fourth track, "Everything," a vivid downer of a number that sounds like an homage to such sad sacks as Morrissey and Marc Almond. But just when you're getting into Steele's sensually sullen, blue-eyed soul-searching, he cranks up the guitar and gives us "I Feel U," which is Steele at his most chipper -- we're talking "Walking on Sunshine" chipper here. It doesn't necessarily bring the album down, but it is a shock to the system -- like throwing a Kylie Minogue song in the middle of a Rammstein compilation.
Nonetheless, what we do get from Steele is enticing simply because of what it reminds us of. You know, if this were 1985, Steele would be the shit. But this is 2002, and Steele is just gonna have to settle for being one interesting white dude.