On their first album in five years, Imperial Teen seem suspended between their past and their future.
Their musical past crested in 1999, with the release of What Is Not to Love, a collection of whip-smart, psychedelic, bubble-gum pop songs. The queer sensibilities Imperial Teen brought to their wry sound had everything to do with their success. On songs like "Lipstick" and "Year of the Tan," they came off as a humorous coed foursome liberated by out-of-the-closet politics. Love is too good to limit to the opposite sex, the album title suggested - what is not to love?
In 2007, the personal lives of Imperial Teen are clearly in flux. The new album title suggests hair loss and parenthood. So what's a band fronted by a gay man who calls himself Roddy Bottum to do when they're reaching middle age?
That's the question Imperial Teen seem hard-pressed to answer on their new release. Half the songs on the album reach back, almost nostalgically, to club-happy dance songs. "Sweet Potato" is the best of these, and the song most likely to be played on college radio this fall. But there's a strange disconnect between the sugar-coated tracks and the reflective mood on the rest of the album. The gentler songs like "Do It Better" are by far the best.
I can't help but think Imperial Teen are feeling mellow and domestic right now. Too bad they come off as apologetic for that, perhaps fearful that it's not good for their rock 'n' roll cachet. This recording is an odd instance of emotional posturing from a band that was once brutally honest about sexuality and now seems sadly befuddled by age.