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Imperial Teen is a mess. Rising from the vapor of two bands (Sister Double Happiness and Faith No More) that it sounds nothing like, unified by a collective interest in Liberace and sexual grief, the foursome makes music that communicates both anguish and euphoria but commits to neither. Its ’96 debut, Seasick, contained pop-smart love lessons spunked up by confrontational come-ons (“Kiss me like a man, boy”) and the notion that happy-sounding ditties needn’t be happy at all. What Is Not to Love, the long-awaited follow-up, doesn’t benefit from context the way its predecessor did: The shadow of grunge rendered Seasick’s spunky optimism novel, whereas the new record is almost predictably tense. There are glorious moments—the guitar quoting Duran Duran in “Open Season,” for example, or the bitchy chorus (“Why do you gotta be so proud? I’m the one with lipstick on”) that transforms “Lipstick” from girl-rocker-finds-success fairy tale into slyly jealous hate mail. But such deliciously tart moments are scarce, as a consequence of the band’s declining interest in pure popcraft more than its declining spirit. Co-frontmen Will Schwartz and Roddy Bottum are still by turns snarling and sweet, but the music rarely responds to their Jekyll-and-Hyde lead. “Year of the Tan” is a funny title that never becomes a song. In “Hooray” and “Alone in the Grass,” both seven-plus-minute dirges that sound longer, the band gives up on the pleasure principle altogether, scraping against the edges of gloom without ever trying to brighten the corners.—Brett Anderson