Rock is a cruel mistress. Dealing with the lead singer's ego, the guitarist's brutal put downs and the drummer's crazed behavior takes a toll. So does years of slogging through low paying gigs in dank clubs. Even groups that have long runs, like Faith No More, have a peak - the hit single "Epic and the albums "The Real Thing" ('90) and "Angel Dust" ('92). From there on, it's downhill - and tough. There's the push to keep the thing going on the outside chance of a comeback. A long shot at best. Conversely, there can also be an opposite tendency to cut the group lose, like so much dead weight, and try something "new." Often though, the new group just rehashes the same sound or a near variant. That goes nowhere. Rarely does a musician try something totally different but that's what Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum did. Not only did he switch to guitar and vocals, Imperial Teen sounded nothing like his previous band.
Based in San.Francisco, Imperial Teen began while Faith No More was winding down. Singer Mike Patton had his side project (Mr. Bungle) so why couldn't Bottum? Also onboard were Will Schwartz (guitar/vocals), and two ex-members of The Wrecks, Jone Stebbins (bass/vocals) and Lynn Truell (drums/vocals). Imperial Teen quickly became known for their boy/girl harmonies and for members switching instruments during shows.
'96 saw the group's debut, "Seasick," which Spin magazine placed at #4 on their list of the Top 50 albums of the year.
Three years later, following the overdue demise of Faith No More, Imperial Teen released "What Is Not To Love." Then came the tour of the decade that turned out to be a dead end. A Hole and Marilyn Manson co-headlining trek had Imperial Teen opening. Imperial Teen had toured with Hole so that was familiar ground. But the Hole/Manson combo proved toxic with Manson fans giving Courtney Love and her band a ton of grief. Hole bailed. OK, so let's keep rolling. Not so fast. Manson injured his ankle and that led to several cancellations. The end result? Imperial Teen headlined a club tour.
'99 was also the year the group's gay-oriented lyrical leanings got press. Bottum, who had come out six years earlier fielded the questions. "I think there's a resistance from gay artists to go that route just because it's so predictable," said Bottum. "But it is annoying to see bands play it as safe as they do these days. That's why something that visually screams as loud as Marilyn Manson is such a breath of fresh air."
Not getting much support form their label, Universal, the group bailed landing with the far smaller (but more attentive) Merge Records for '02 release "On." Later in the year, Imperial Teen played Maxwell's in Hoboken NJ. The set was released months later as "Live At Maxwell's" (of course).
Side projects kept members busy but they finally re-grouped for their '07 effort, "The Hair, The TV, The Baby & The Band." The title referenced each member: The Hair - Stebbins (traveling with styling scissors), The TV - Bottum (scored a TV show), The Baby - Truell (pregnant) and The Band - Schwartz (by default). Clever. The album was selected as the 38th best record of '07 by Rolling Stone magazine.
Imperial Teen began work on their fifth album in June, '10. But "Feel The Sound" didn't drop until January, '12 - another five year stretch between albums.
1998 What Is Not To Love
2007 The Hair, The TV, The Baby, And The Band
2012 Feel The Sound
"Feel The Sound" owes much of its appeal to a casual, affable approach that vaults from post-Punk power pop to "Tusk" era Fleetwood Mac, sans Stevie Nicks. Thankfully, there are no big ideas or interminable themes.
"Don't Know How You Do It," contains touches of Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" before the group jumps a decade for "The Hibernates," which sources the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979." "Runaway," with its dreamy hook, and "All The Same" are the other attention grabbers.
Infectious '80s Wave - that's "The Hair, The TV, The Baby & The Band." Or the B-52s playing it straight. Rather, as straight as the Athens clan possibly could. The songs are jangling pieces of ear candy. They don't venture far from their root sound but manage to touch cabaret ("Fallen Idol") and Folk-Pop ("What You Do"). Otherwise, they bop through their tunes with a good-natured abandon.
For more campy fun, check out "On." That sounds like one of those discount TV compilation come-ons but it works here. "Ivanka" (an ode to The Donald's ex) and "Teacher's Pet" with the high octave backing vocals and staccato keyboards are priceless.
On earlier efforts Imperial Teen tended to take things (including themselves) a little more seriously. The retro-80s sound and frame-of-reference are there but it's not as appealing. But with "You're One" (from "Seasick") or "Year Of The Tan" and "Lipstick," (on "What Is Not To Love"), where Bottum intones, "I'm the one with lipstick on," each album has its' moments.