Imaginary Friends supposedly is a “serious” album by comparison with Freezepop’s previous work, by which is meant, I guess, that there are no songs with titles like “Duct Tape My Heart.” Still, I am not inclined to underestimate a band with songs in the Guitar Hero series that don’t actually have any guitars in them.
And despite the marked absence of terminally goofy stuff, I still find plenty to smile about while listening to the twelve tracks of Imaginary Friends. Liz Enthusiasm still can turn a phrase I admit to giggling a bit during “Magnetic” when she says “You’re my polar opposite” and she’s long since caught on to the idea that the disembodied robotic voice one tends to expect in synthpop needn’t be either disembodied or robotic; she’s allowing herself to sound less like a string of bits and more like a geek girl with real geek-girl thoughts. (Harmony vocals by new arrival Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan help, but you can hear this even when Sagan is offmike or mixed down.) At no point do things sound arch or artificially ironic.
The songs themselves are as tuneful, as catchy, as ever. I suppose one could point to the “limitations” of the synthpop genre, but struggling against limitations is at the heart of anything artistic, and the band, reconfiguring after the loss of founding member the Duke of Pannekoeken, has pushed itself a notch or two beyond its own little niche. Of course, just about everything is powered by synthesizers of one sort or another these days, though you’re not supposed to notice that. Freezepop, in embracing the synth at its most blatantly artificial, somehow seems to humanize it. (Think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: it became a lot more plausible once you caught on to the fact that all the sets were computer-generated.)
Still, I have to believe that not everyone is going to like Imaginary Friends. It helps if you survived the 1980s, and if you played around with the 8-bit noises that defined the first half of that decade. I, of course, maintain a rather large footprint in both camps; after spinning the CD a couple of times I’d snagged the downloads last week I actually entertained the idea of tracking down a used Yamaha QY70, a device Freezepop has since outgrown, for myself.
(Reviewed from purchased copies.)