You might know Imperial Teen. They contributed a few songs to Jawbreaker, a teen black comedy (and I mean black) starring Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart (!), including the infectious “Yoo Hoo.” They were kind of a big deal in my high school years and I have the autographed poster to prove it. They effortlessly blended pop sensibilities with stark indie rock.
When Imperial Teen took a break after releasing On, singer-guitarist Will Schwartz embraced his love of Pop and R&B full on and formed Hey Willpower. A recent fixture in the Bay Area nightlife, Will Schwartz and Tomo Yasuda (he of the excellent band, Tussle) became reliable sources of a fun, dance-filled live show. With their full-length P.D.A. however, that carefree party atmosphere didn’t quite translate.
P.D.A. brings back memories of ’90s Top 40 and all those awesome yet cringe-inducing Slow Jams that entails. Blending that sensibility with Yasuda’s penchant towards blippy and beepy spare sonic landscapes, the resulting music is not unlike Junior Boys backing Usher or Justin Timberlake. Opening track “Double Fantasy II” sounds just like that (but nothing like John Lennon). Schwartz’s coos are remarkably similar to Timberlake’s and the synths are straight out of Junior Boys’ “In the Morning.” But instead of reaching the euphoric heights of “In the Morning” or “LoveStoned,” the song falls short, sounding more like a parody of the two.
It doesn’t get that much better with “Uh Uh Uh” a smarmy R&B jam that sounds like a bad N*sync album track. Even worse, the song sounds like those parody songs from the “Josie and the Pussycats” movie. Quite frankly, that’s the problem for much of the album. Much of the first half sounds like a joke and a parody of the music that Schwartz loves. “Retail Heaven” sounds as much of a ludicrous joke as Beck’s “Debra” was.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some hidden joys in the album. Single “Hundredaire” fares much better by taking cues from ’80s pop music and is just short of being a really awesome carefree pop song. It blatantly rips off both Prince and Wham! but it does so with a great sense of fun that seemed to be absent from the first half of the album. Whoever decided to make this the first single made a good call. Their cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races” with its Doo-Wop base is wonderful fun if just a little giggle inducing.
I’ve seen Hey Willpower live on a few occasions and I know how much fun they can be. However P.D.A. doesn’t capture the sweaty, sexy, dance-friendly fun of their shows. Schwartz and Yasuda take their pop music so seriously that it seems to suck the energy right out. The songs sound like a joke, but done with such a straight face you wonder if they’re in on it too. It’s not quite a parody but it’s not the pop album they want it to be. What it ends up being is disappointing.