Disclosure time: Normally, when it comes to record reviews at ID:UD, we do our level best to offer an informed opinion. We try to look past promo copy, do some serious research, and offer a reasoned opinion that has some grounding in fact (insofar as objective fact has any impact upon subjective reception of art, but I don’t want to start talking about Kant). We always give records multiple listens. We try to frame the records we’re looking at in several contexts: the band in question’s body of work as a whole, the genres and sounds they’re touching upon, how they compare to other bands in the same ballpark. In short, we try to sound like we know what the fuck we’re talking about by knowing what the fuck we’re talking about.
This review’s a bit different. Imperative Reaction have, for no particular reason, always been a lacuna in my knowledge of modern EBM and futurepop. I remember listening to Ruined and Redemption when they came out, but neither record made any real impression on me, and I have no lasting memory of either. Was it me? Was it the records? Who knows? I know that they used to play in a harsher vein when they first started out, but I’ve never listened to their debut, Eulogy For The Sick Child. I’ve seen them live twice, and again, little impression was made, apart from the vocals being off-key both times. Again, was it me? Was it them? Was it the cheap highballs?
So: in keeping with ID:UD’s penchant for context, here’s the context for this review: pretty much nothing. I have nothing at stake when it comes to a new IR album, and no expectations. I’ve written this prologue up without having bought the album or listened to a note of it, but I’ve got some Emusic credits burning a hole in my pocket and a Friday column to fill. Besides, they’ve been a major presence in Teh Scene for a decade or so; isn’t it time I found out what I was ignoring?
Imperative Reaction starts off nakedly shooting for today’s electro-industrial dancefloor. You know the routine: 4/4, pulsing bass, alarm siren synths. Lead cut “Side Effect” is a decent enough floor stomper, though there’s a nasal quality to Ted Phelp’s vocals which I’m not nuts about, and for all its noise, very little of “Side Effect” sticks past its playing time.
Things change after the first few tracks, however. I don’t know if it’s a recent addition to Imperative Reaction’s modus operandi, but there’s a modern rock/crossover feel to many of the songs here. This doesn’t manifest just in terms of more guitars than I was expecting, but also in the way choruses and bridges bounce off of each other (“Song Of The Martyr”). Post-millennial Apop, The Faint, and all manner of newer droopy-banged bands I’m too old to know anything about are touchstones. It’s a solid enough fit for Phelps’ vocals, which I want to be just a tad smoother on epic and sweeping tracks which show a more traditional synthpop influence (“Torture”). Speaking of synths, there’s a certain uniformity to their sound throughout the disc, and while I’m normally a champion of squelchy-to-springy-and-back-again experimentation in terms of electronics, this makes sense given how much of IR makes a run at being a proper rock record.
The rock stylings don’t always pay off, however. Catchy though it may be, first single “Surface” sounds, God help us all, like Orgy’s “Blue Monday” cover. That scourge of modern rock, over-compression, also rears its head from time to time, stealing much of the dramatic effect the choruses might be able to evoke; rather than crashing in, they tick along like clockwork, as predictable as the morning train and just as dynamic.
IR does yield a couple more solid enough by-the-numbers floor tracks: “The Signal” is enjoyably frenetic (although the compression and just how on the nose and high in the mix Phelp’s vocals are do somewhat detract). “Siphon” chugs along well, and is the rare song which gives each of the tracks enough space and room to breathe.
I can see the appeal of a record like Imperative Reaction, but to my ears it suffers from half-measures. It’s loud, but never feels legitimately angry or dangerous. It’s consistently shooting for club play, but doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the morass of contemporary 4/4 thumpers DJs have at their disposal. It makes a play for being a rock record, but never remits enough to satisfy as a full album experience. While I don’t regret my brief stop-over in Imperative Reaction territory after having passed it by all these years, I can’t imagine I’ll be making a return visit.