On 2007’s The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band, intermittent indie-rock concern Imperial Teen attempted to square its rock ’n’ roll lifestyle with the reality of middle age. “And now we have to book the rental cars / We no longer smash guitars,” sang Roddy Bottum (of Faith No More fame) on the resigned “Room With A View.” The new Feel The Sound—Imperial Teen’s first album in five years—is similarly adult-minded, but remarkably more assured and hopeful. It’s the sound of a band comfortable in its own skin, but still not afraid to embrace the unexpected.
Another thing that remains constant: the group’s knack for symphonic pop gems, twee-but-vampy rave-ups, and chirpy boy-girl vocals. Bottum and company are time-tested veterans at this point, having perfected their M.O. on 1998’s What Is Not To Love and 2002’s terrific On. Their familiar touch once again serves them well, though it does make for an album that sometimes feels too comfortable.
Happily, Sound’s peaks are breathtaking and surprising: The opener, “Runaway,” is a driving, symphonic wonder that remarkably features all four band members on lead vocals. “Over His Head” recalls the sinister slink of What Is Not To Love, and comes complete with a gorgeous, woozy, and wholly unexpected middle eight. “All The Same” is stuffed with near-unbearable sadness and yearning, while “Out From Inside” lightens the mood with a bit of Prince-like strut. A sense of weary yet wide-eyed melancholy permeates the album as a whole, which, like adult life, coasts along in a comfortable groove, waiting for the increasingly rare pockets of adolescent bliss.