For all the shit heaped on new wave during its waning years, the Rodney Dangerfield of the post-modern pop world has surprised everyone by having the shelf life — and not just the consistency — of a Twinkie. How else to explain the herky-jerky glam-punk of Ima Robot? On their preliminary four-song EP (which contains two non-album tracks) and subsequent full-length, the Los Angeles pentad with the silly Kraftwerkian name are haunted by the spastic ghosts of Devo and Oingo Boingo, terrorized by the primped corpses of Sparks and Duran Duran and possessed by the unlikely demons of John Lydon and Jello Biafra. Enhancing this old-wave-is-new-again appeal, keyboardist Oliver Goldstein matches guitarist Tim Anderson’s choppy power chords with automated squeals and pops straight from the caveman days of electronica, and singer Alex Ebert prances like a neo-romantic Nancy Come Lately — dreadful haircut and all — acting like The Joshua Tree and Nevermind never happened. (To claim the vocalist’s whiny nihilism is an acquired taste is only hopeful thinking: those not already fond of effeminate, jittery glam-boys will never find Ebert’s camp appetizing.)
Ultimately saving Ima Robot from its own excess is the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Joey Waronker, both former Beck backers. With help from producer Josh Abraham (Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Staind and other bands that can’t spell), the two bring the chunky punk of “Song #1” up to date and manage to revive “Alive” and “Let’s Talk Turkey” from Ebert’s dull choruses; the hooks stuffed into “Dynomite,” “Philosophofee” and “12=3” actually complement the singer’s theatrics. For his part, Ebert does effectively drive the embarrassingly infectious white funk of “Dirty Life” and the caffeinated bop of “Here Come the Bombs,” where his lyrics resort to rock-star offensiveness (“We don’t charge extra touching fees / So touch me please / Get your free autographed kneepads / And for the homies we got autographed ski masks”). Luckily, the album’s only true bore — the slow and irritating “What Are We Made From” — is followed by the Dead-Milkmen-meets-Eminem synth-pop of “Black Jettas,” ending Ima Robot on a positive (if infantile) note.