CD Review of Monument to the Masses by Ima Robot

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Monument to the Masses
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Virgin
Released: 2006
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You can’t turn around these days without running into a band who’s emulating either a new wave or post-punk group. Seriously, it’s a musical epidemic. It wasn’t so bad when the first generation started to emerge, but now you’ve got bands showing up who sound like they’re ripping off Franz Ferdinand and Interpol rather than paying tribute to Gang of Four…and, dude, that’s just not cool. As a result of this trend, it’s hard to get too excited when you read about a band described as “electro-pop,” because you’re, like, “Hello, Bandwagon? We’ve got a jumper here!”

Sometimes, though, a band stands out not necessarily because they’re original but, rather, because they’re so damned enthusiastic about the ripping-off they’re doing…and that’s exactly what category Ima Robot fall into, given how they freely admit on their website that “Disconnect” – the first track on their sophomore effort, Monument to the Masses – “totally rips off Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.’ We can’t even front, it does.” (The opening of the song steals even more blatantly from PiL’s “Public Image,” but, really, how many crimes can they be expected to admit to?)

You may have caught the time-honored, critically-loved phrase “sophomore effort” used in the previous paragraph. Yeah, that’s right, Ima Robot’s self-titled debut hit shelves back in 2003, thank you very much…and they use their site to get in a few swipes at the competition, referring to how the band’s core members, Alex Ebert and Timmy Anderson, have been playing this kind of music “since before your mom hummed along with the Killers in her SUV.” (Oh, no, they didn’t!) Now, whether you’ll enjoy Monument to the Masses as much as the Killers’ Sam’s Town remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: Ima Robot ain’t scared to put up their dukes and enter the battle for domination of the charts.

First single “Creeps Me Out” is robot rock at its finest, with a soaring chorus to boot, and “Cool Cool Universe” has some very, very white-boy rapping goin’ on, but “The Beat” is the song with the most hit-single potential. You wouldn’t expect Ima Robot to pull off anything even remotely approaching a ballad, given how propellant the majority of their material is, but they accomplish it admirably on “Chip off the Block.” (Alas, “Lovers in Captivity” doesn’t work half as well.) “What Comes Tomorrow” sits between “Disconnect” and closer “Dangerous Life” to make the three most aggressively retro tracks on the disc, with lead singer Ebert sounding like a cross between John Lydon and David Bowie.

Regrettably, there would seem to be little chance that Ima Robot will trouble the Killers in the upper reaches of the charts; if anything, they’re more on the level of Hot Hot Heat, in the sense that they’re a good band with solid influences but not much chance of getting beyond a large cult following. Still, if you’re diggin’ the retro sound but you just can’t get into, say, Panic! At the Disco, now you’ve got something else to check out.

~Will Harris