Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Imperial Teen

  • Seasick [Slash/London, 1996] A-
  • What Is Not to Love [Slash, 1999] A-
  • On [Merge, 2002] A-
  • Live at Maxwell's [DCN, 2002] **
  • The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band [Merge, 2007] A-
  • Feel the Sound [Merge, 2012] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Seasick [Slash/London, 1996]
Coy about their Faith No More link, which leaves no mark on their hand-crafted jangle-pop. Not so coy about their gay subtext, which--well, as they say themselves, "our subtext is our plot." A painful one, too. Postgrungers who mistake their cheery surface for happiness either aren't listening or expect too little of life. Sweet and sharp and sometimes mean, they're still feeling their way toward a personal identity as they establish a musical one. And that felt quality makes their jangle-pop come alive. A-

What Is Not to Love [Slash, 1999]
These understated gender-offenders respond to commercial clampdown by mooning around their bedrooms until their hooks are covered with mattress lint. They're true to their alt-bred school--foggier and coyer, yet sweeter than ever if you prove you love them, and hardly averse to reminding whoever's listening that they're "fucking congressmen," say. The brutal fact is that they're not going to break pop no matter how assiduously they polish their lissome tunes or sand down their intelligent noise. So I admire their resistance, and sometimes love it. A-

On [Merge, 2002]
After two major-label efforts that I doubt made a cent, this is unabashed art for art's sake--a subsidized hobby, only it's a label rather than a papa laying out the cash and expecting personal fulfillment through creative expression in return. Pop isn't an ambition for these smart people with other things to do, it's a discipline--the tunes strong, the beats solid, the vocals lightly yearning and pungently sweet. As if they've actually been listening to the radio (watching MTV, more likely), they bear down on the rhythm tracks, which I hope doesn't mean they think the whoos and handclaps on "Baby" will get buzz-binned in this day and age. They'll tour, fill small venues, sell some T-shirts. And to what end? The chance to make yet another album this near-perfect right on schedule, in 2005. A-

Live at Maxwell's [DCN, 2002]
slightly sparer, slightly rougher fan/band faves ("The Beginning," "You're One") **

The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band [Merge, 2007]
Where Sonic Youth are at least sonic, these men and women are far from imperial. Just masterful. They sharpen their hooks and spin their lyrics not for art's sake, but for the artists' pleasure, and for the ears and minds of their discerning fans. The result are songs that illuminate a subcultural dilemma other bands ignore or wallow in: how it feels to stick with your music even when you are going on middle age is plenty full without it. "Room With a View," with the "20 for life" line everybody quotes, lays out the terms. But the opener's "Pump my heart until/Bleeding heart be still" is just as apt. Can't last forever. But the proof it's lasted this long is in the hearing, and they're happy about it. A-

Feel the Sound [Merge, 2012]
"Too many songs we sang are left unsung"--that about sums it up ("Last to Know," "Out From Inside") **

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