Imperial f.f.r.r. (No. 6 Records/Teen Beat 92) Rating: B
Generally considered the best album from the best band led by Mark Robinson, who fronts Air Miami among other projects, Imperial f.f.r.r. has its virtues but overall doesn't live up to the hype (it's often touted as something of a "neglected classic"). The album has its fair share of easily enjoyable attributes, chief among them being the pretty, dreamy jangle guitars and funky, propulsive (primarily mid-tempo) grooves, but by and large the band treads water after an excellent first three songs (discounting the 15 second first "song"). I dig the galloping grooves and naive innocence of the giddy "Suki," as well as the lovely mid-tempo melody and precious lyrics of "I Do Believe You Are Blushing," but the dreamy, heartfelt title track ballad, all 8 minutes of it, is the album's obvious standout. Generally speaking, Robinson's vocals are plain but pleasant enough (when he's singing rather than mumbling, that is, as his tendency to do the latter can be rather annoying), but here they achieve a real power, particularly come falsetto time, and the song is so good (if overly long) that he decided to rewrite it as "Isabel." Likewise, "Cherry Cream On," while largely entertaining on its own merits, sounds like an inferior reprise of "Suki," and three filler-ish instrumentals ("Champion Nines," "Sugarsack," "Firecracker") don't help matters any. "Champion Nines" and "Sugarsack" accentuate the band's rhythmic side, the former low-key yet funky, the latter faster paced and even more groove-based, but both are overly repetitive and don't really do much of anything, while "Firecracker" just drones along, again in a repetitive and not especially appealing manner. Anyway, the album's other standout track is "June," on which new bassist Bridget Cross (ex-Velocity Girl) sings altogether charmingly, in direct contrast to the song's dark lyrics, and "Loyola" also has its powerful, passionate moments, though this minimalist epic takes about half of its 6+ minutes to really get going. So, as you can see, this album has some real high points but simply has too much redundancy and is too hit-and-miss for me to highly recommend it, though fans of low-key jangle pop will almost certainly appreciate and maybe even love at least some of these songs. The four bonus tracks on the reissue are similarly patchy, "Hydrofoil No. 1" being particularly irritating and "Full Frequency" (basically the title track reprised in a slower, more self-indulgent version that stretches out past 13 minutes) offering more of the same, though the sexually explicit, low-fi "Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl" and "Wednesday & Proud" (despite more mumbling from Robinson) are welcome additions. Still, I expected a bit more based on what I'd read about this album.

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