The most transgressive act of Faith No More’s career was allowing a hapless gold- fish to nearly flop to its death in the video for the Top 10 single “Epic.” Former keyboardist Roddy Bottum eclipsed it on Imperial Teen’s 1996 debut, Seasick, at least half a dozen times, in tunes whose unassuming hookiness and genial intra-band chemistry hid lyrics like the one stuck in the last minute of “You’re One”: “You kiss me like a man, boy.” Like Neil Tennant—the only song- writer in 1996 so up-front about man-love who was selling more records than Faith No More—Bottum and his mates delineated scenarios as often as they limned emotions that were both ambivalent sexually and ambivalent the way adult emotions usually are; like Luna and Pavement, the politics of indie semi-obscurity became their second great subject. Ebullience held age-inspired terror at bay.
If their subsequent output has failed to match “You’re One” or “Butch,” their fourth album, The Hair, the TV, the Baby & the Band, demonstrates that at
least they’ve become lapidary masters. The trouble is, who’s listening and learning? “A Room with a View” is The Hair‘s most memorable song—here’s one band that knows not just a thing or two about life glimpsed through a tour-bus window, but the unexpected (unwanted?) romances enacted behind it. It also includes the album’s pithiest lyric: “We’ll do the best to pretend we’ll be 20 for life.” The rest of the album gloomily skirts this wisdom, as Imperial Teen learn that the problem with lapidary craftsmanship is that for every supple Mellotron here and guitar crunch there, we have to accept that less is less. Still, ebullience hasn’t congealed into callowness yet; let them savor this well-earned victory.