As nu-metal and the last vestiges of grunge have waned, the popular embrace of "real" or "garage" rock has caused an uptick of ultrafashionable musicians who artfully subtract the more inaccessible parts of genres like slutty punk rock, fey new wave, and goth, and use the highly brand-identifiable remainder to spruce up what are essentially hooky pop songs. Hot Hot Heat and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have each performed this operation with skill; now, Ima Robot wants a piece of the action. The quintet is led by the histrionic yelp of Alex Ebert, who sounds like Suede's Brett Anderson doing a Johnny Rotten impersonation and sports a bizarre haircut suggestive of Zan from the Wonder Twins. Besides a guitarist and electronicist, the band also includes bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Joey Waronker, two session pros who are also veterans of Beck's band. The L.A. force is strong in these guys, and it shows in the refined, curiously vapid quality of their music. "Dynomite," "Song, No. 1," and "Alive" are the first three songs on the album, but they're also the most representative (barring the cheeky, effete rap of "Black Jettas"). The songs can be called so much -- glammy punk, the Escape Club meets Love and Rockets -- but when the makeup comes off they're just well-done pop songs, as much sticky fun as a fruit roll-up, but unfortunately just as substantive. Ima Robot -- especially the lyrically and visually outrageous Ebert -- seem to understand this. It seems to be part of the fun to reference the right references while rocking the cheap seats with easy power chords ("A Is for Action") and mashups of Bowie and electro-pop ("Philosophee"). And maybe it is fun, depending on your point of view. After all, many of the groups Ima Robot pays tribute to were equally as empty. But Ima Robot's fancy, yet expensively dirty version of this game just seems particularly affected, and ultimately too derivative to fully enjoy.
Ima Robot Review
by Johnny Loftus