The Late Isabel's newest opus, Imperial, will probably not click with the masses. This doesn't make the album subpar. In fact, it's actually an excellent piece of work, one far removed from the usual, a quality that is both its strength and weakness.
Loaded with catchy tunes worthy of the European market, it allows for more than a cursory nod to the region’s post-punk greats like Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, particularly in terms of production and arrangement. Many would probably hail Imperial a landmark effort, most especially for a Pinoy band.
But how many warm bodies would that be, really, as opposed to the throng of locals who might find the collection alienating, given their inclination for simplistic songs about love?
But does The Late Isabel care? A quick listen to Imperial seems to lead to one answer and one answer alone: no and rightfully so.
Starting with "Lackadaisical," which is adorned with ominous sounding Moe Tucker-like floor tom fills, The Late Isabel makes it known that they are not about to kowtow to Sarah Geronimo fans.
Ditto with “KSD (DTFW)” which, as interesting as it may sound, would probably find the likes of Vice Ganda arching one eyebrow to the high heavens.
And it goes on.
The one-two punch that is “Love On Broken Glass” and “Subterranean Dayglo Queen” find the band at its most radio-friendly, but only in the loosest of terms. “Subterranean Dayglo Queen” showcases their experimental nature with a familiar yet hard-edged reggae-infused beat (think Blondie on weed) taking over.
Meanwhile, the title track sees the band delving into oriental themes but not like Grace Nono; more like early Siouxsie and The Banshees or the Cocteau Twins. Noticeably, the band hasn’t lost its visual touch, something that was apparent when they came out with Doll’s Head several years ago.
With “Imperial” the song, the band easily conjures naked, mysterious Geisha’s bathing in blood. “The Enemies Of Sleep,” on the other hand, sounds very much like a bad case of insomnia (or being trapped in new wave hell for that matter). “Eunuch” stresses the fact that these musicians are in rocking form, a track that is also among the most straightforward efforts in the collection.
“Contraluz” is a fast favorite. It is easily the catchiest tune of the bunch, a churning, swirling, dark melodic punk pop number that would definitely put a smile on Robert Smith’s lipstick caked lips. “Outside Of Time” is the perfect closer. Funereal yet reassuring, it is a fitting anthem to the state of today's Pinoy rock.
Count us among those who want the next album to sound more like this.