Stimulus: Freezepop – Imaginary Friends
Not every band that makes a name in inside jokes and idiosyncrasy survives the switch to seriousness, but in Freezepop’s case, the change is not only survived but is illuminating. The first release from the newly remodeled synthpop band shows a change in style to accompany its changes in lineup. What Imaginary Friends sounds like more than anything is an electronic band busting out high-aerobic singles in its 80s heyday. Yet despite the fact that it’s on par with the best music of that era, labeling this album as a retro homage or ironic nostalgia would really be shortchanging the quality work that went into its making.
Along with the band’s jettisoning of the rock direction which it flirted with previously, the wry observations and quirky pop culture references that have dotted Liz Enthusiasm’s vocals over the years have largely disappeared. On the brilliantly synthed up “Lose that Boy,” Enthusiasm’s love advice is the closest the album comes to overt goofiness, but it’s nowhere near her established sense of whimsical self-effacement (see: “Brainpower”). Instead, the overall impression of Imaginary Friends is that it is a very earnest body of work, easily Freezepop’s most straightforward and concise album to date. Unless one is hopelessly hung up on references to PBR, Love Ninjas, Game Boys, and the actors of Growing Pains, this is in no way a bad thing.
For my money, the best track on Imaginary Friends is “Special Effects,” an electrojuggernaut that barely has time to slow down for a piano-tinged interlude. “Natural Causes,” which is a little slower and darker, would be my runner-up. The album’s against the grain track is its last, “House of Mirrors,” a ballad which plays like a stately version of “Swimming Pool” from the previous album. And face-forward tracks like “Doppelganger” and “Magnetic” have bouncy hooks that crawl into the listener’s brain and take over.
Though the narrower scope and relative seriousness of Imaginary Friends don’t need to set a permanent precedent, in this case they work out to Freezepop’s advantage. This is a great work of well-assembled electropop which proves that the new version of Freezepop is just as formidable and enduring as its prior incarnation.