I had a theory as a teenager that bands peaked with their fifth album. The seventh track was the best song, after the first had set the scene and second had deviated far enough away from its predecessor to give the impending journey the sense of longevity that made it worth buckling-up for. That track seven was always the album’s “eye of the duck,” as David Lynch describes it; the moment that an anomalous characteristic speaks its inextricable link to every individual part, instigating an ineffable, subconscious understanding of how the ‘whole’ is greater than its sum. This screwy intellectualism seems more apt for dissecting Mike Patton’s decidedly outré activities outside of Faith No More rather than Roswell Christopher Bottum III’s (yes, it is his real name) fifth Imperial Teen album.
This unexpected desire to excavate and apply my teenage formula is born not out of some hack tactic to make reference to the band’s name, but rather the way this particular record makes me ‘feel’ (whoops, there I go again). Feel The Sound was my first ‘assignment’ of this year, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. While it’s perhaps stupid to say that last year was, musically speaking, not a particular good one – you can’t really argue with the amount of people all spontaneously saying so. Never willingly wanting to be associated with pervasive opinion, I have to admit to reluctantly shrugging my shoulders and siding with the naysayers on this occasion. Thankfully my allegiance to this album will probably see me absolved of any hipster guilt.
“Runaway” rings in Feel The Sound with earnestly optimistic synth-strings and pop organ, sounding for all the world like the prelude to something disarmingly pure and important, before eventually being dragged along by rhyming, whiny vocals that seemingly scream simplicity, like the chorus:
“We could trade places A, B, C
Cover the bases 1, 2, 3
I could be you and you’d be me
Go in, go out, go in, go out – yeah”
While each song is, by itself, idiosyncratic enough to be mildly interesting in its own right, the album as a whole leaves the listener with the impression that it is a procession of songs that set before themselves a simple manifesto of infectiousness: Riff – (repetitively probed, exploited and explored in every which way) = maximum satisfaction. Which I know, is nothing new, but this album is as successful a summation of pop perfection that I’ve heard in I can’t remember when.
While this admittedly sounds superficial, there are sufficient instances of real meat to sink your teeth into. “Last To Know” has the playful stomp of a Ween song with icky lyrics to match: “Pumped-up pecs and sticky skin/ unswept floors and walls are thin… Steroids in the cabinet/ a trophy wife with benefits.” Meanwhile, the multilayered and surrealistic “Hibernates” offers a quiet daydream interrupted by tweeting birds and a playful piano solo, before final song “Overtaken” offers the album’s sole instance of genuine sadness. This final word begs instant reappraisal of the album as a whole.
Feel The Sound fails my teenage system of album appreciation on counts three and four. Track two isn’t the wilderness exploration, that’s “Last To Know” (track three). And track six (“All The Same”) is the “eye of the duck” moment. If Feel The Sound is Imperial Teen’s peak however remains to be seen. So based on that specific formula, it’s a failure I’m afraid.
Which would be bad, if it weren’t one of the most pitch perfect, unaffected melodic pop records I’d heard since I fell in love with pop records the first time around. Isn’t that what matters? It’s easy to overthink things; FEEL the sound!
Lilys – Everything Wrong is Imaginary
The Rentals – Return of the Rentals
Frank Black – Frank Black
Stream: Imperial Teen – “Runaway”