Imperial F.F.R.R. (Deluxe)
his, perhaps more than any other album, made a generation realize just how sexy geeks could be, especially when winsome. No more hiding behind a façade of hauteur, that’s for poseurs. The new cool was vulnerable and endearing, and obsessively analytic enough to realize its own absurdity. Knowing, but not descending to irony, even if this release tips it closer, with nearly 27 minutes of “Imperial” spread over four versions. It’s not winking at the listener, though. As the title track of the first album by the trio’s essential lineup, the song bears up under scrutiny. It perfectly captures both their lo-tech experimentalism and their pop songcraft.
Thankfully, the original album art is retained, with a few modifications. The first deluxe (UK) edition bypassed the analog amplifier for a slicker graphic layout that emphasized Unrest’s artier side over their simplicity. It also added three of the nine bonus tracks that appear this time around. What it lacked, though, was clarity of sound. It would have been hard to imagine that early in the CD-era that a band known to most through only one 7” single would leave a master crisp enough to result in this issue.
The original album’s material sounds fantastic. The impatient, barely contained doggie-panting rhythms of “Suki” and “Cherry Cream On” snap crisply—each cymbal tick is now distinct. Guitars on the more delicate songs such as “Imperial” and “Isabel” sound much more lambent. The slow-funk bass of “Champion Nines” and speedy surf bass of “Sugarshack” are thick and chunky. Vocals are rich and affecting, particularly on “I Do Believe You Are Blushing.” It’s got the sexual drive of the more spastic tracks combined with an assurance that seems to be self-fulfilling, as it winds into a gentle guitar coda that could be either gently awed mutual undressing or post-coital drift. And those drones and tinkles sprinkled all over the album become almost unbearably entrancing.
The “addendum” is spottier, but still revealing. After two brief studies for songs which appear later in the band’s career, we hear “Full Frequency,” a 13 ½ minute version of “Imperial.” It begins with a lengthy dub-a-pella, with pianissimo instrumental lines appearing in the pauses between verses, followed by seven minutes of interlaced guitar leads, which then fade to a faint echo accompanied by a set of wineglasses. It’s a potentially appalling idea, but is utterly, eerily gorgeous if listened to with attention.
The second iteration of “Isabel,, sometimes referred to as the “dance” version is one of Unrest’s career highlights. The fragile, wobbly vocal is replaced with a more forceful performance, bolstered by a multi-tracked production which adds richness without even trying to make Mark’s voice flawless. The wispy guitar line is taken by the bass; Bridget adds many slurred notes into each run, transforming it from rickety to propulsive. Phil’s percussion part is almost baggy Mancunian. It’s all anchored by a rich piano line and given flight by trebly guitar filigrees. Its B-side, the luminous, lugubrious “Wednesday and Proud” is preceded by “Cherry Cherry,” a slightly less echoey mix for radio.
The final three tracks are demos, two for “Imperial,” and one for “Cherry Cream On.” They sound like solo affairs, but provide a great focus on the guitar elements that got stripped a bit to make the final product. Whether you’re an Unrest fanatic or new to the band, revisiting for the first time in ages or barely acquainted, this is currently the essential disc. Sonic quality trumps all here; one may not want to hear each track every time through, but that applied the first time around, too.
Reviewed by: Dan Miron
Reviewed on: 2005-04-06