Imperial Teen: The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band

San Francisco indie pop band cranks catchy, peppy tunes on their fourth studio album, but it all seems a little slack.

Imperial Teen

The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2007-08-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

Imperial Teen, the San Francisco-based indie pop band headed by Faith No More's former keyboard player, Roddy Bottom, has always laced its catchy tunes with darkness. The band's first CD, Seasick, was a tantalizing blend of pure sugary exuberance and slightly ominous undercurrents. It was gleefully omnisexual, with peppy male-led choruses of "Kiss him like a man, boy" and subversive cuts like "Copafeelia". On, their last CD, had more keyboards, less bass, but still managed to twist cuts like "Ivanka" into something a little more dangerous than sheer pop. The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band feels several degrees lighter than On and a whole world away from Seasick's gender-challenging, razor-sharp endeavors. It's good fun, but that's all... and that's disappointing coming from Imperial Teen.

There's been a five-year hiatus between albums, and though details aren't specific, there have clearly been some personal developments among the four principles. Someone's had a baby for one thing, another possibly lost his hair, TV figures into it somehow, and there's apparently another band. So, as a result, all the distractions that come with maturity intrude on this record. For instance, "Room with a View" talks about a friend undergoing plastic surgery and the need to "do our best to pretend we'll be 20 for life". There's a kind of bittersweetness even in the most upbeat songs, the joy of continuing versus the inevitable sense of not-the-same-ness. Power pop must be one of the most difficult genres to maintain as you get older, because its energy and its subject matter are so tied to youth.

And yet, Imperial Teen manages to pull it off a couple of times, with bouncy, shout-along songs that fall just short of their best material. "Sweet Potato", with its head-snapping beat and infectious call and response, is sheer good-natured fun in musical terms. Lyrically, it's sly and clever, a female-centric narrative punctuated by zingers ("She's got a backstage pass / But she don't want to meet the band.... Sweet potato, oh! Sweet potato"). Album opener "Everything" is just about as good, with the same kind of staticky rhythms and side-grinning lyrics, and "Shim Sham" gasps and pants and burbles like a lost Go-Go's cut. (Everybody get in the convertible!) Still none of these songs have the kick of "Teacher's Pet" or "Water Boy". They feel slightly slack, a little bit going-through-the-motions. It'd be fine from anybody else, but from Imperial Teen, we expect more.

As they've done in the past, Imperial Teen slips some slower, more ballady cuts in between the pop-rockers, and, in general, these seem even less compelling than the faster cuts. One exception is "21st Century", whose gently stuttery guitar line gives spine to a melancholy consideration of the passage of time; that pensive verse explodes into a distorted, shout-sung chorus of "Countdown... Countdown.... to the 21st century". It's the kind of thing that would have gone down very well on mid-1990s MTV, alongside the Breeders and Belly, but as the song reminds us, we are a long way past all that.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.