Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Jellyfish Family Tree Part 3: Getting Into Imperial Drag

Jellyfish deliberately used the familiar melodic and harmonic conventions of yesteryear as a nostalgic vehicle for expressive musicianship. That band cratered under the weight of its own talent, but a few years later, keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and touring guitarist Eric Dover reconvened under the name Imperial Drag. Although this project was stylistically different from Jellyfish, it operated under a similarly constructed identity. Instead of recalling The Beatles and other late 60s/early 70s pop groups, however, Imperial Drag’s image scaffolded on the conventions of T. Rex and glam rock.

Overnight Sensation by Imperial Drag on Grooveshark

I was not aware at all of Imperial Drag’s relationship to Jellyfish, at least not at first. Sometimes an album’s artwork catches my attention, and their debut, with its shiny foil star and rainbow bolt, jumped off at me from a record store wall display. The back cover was no less attention-grabbing, as it showed two teenage girls with imaginary Imperial Drag fan club schwag all over their room, fondling their vinyl copy of the album. In the late 90s vinyl was considered to be completely dead, so in the context of the Imperial Drag’s cultural climate, this reference carried quite a bit of weight. Overall, the album looked like a prop from “That 70s Show.”

I ended up buying Imperial Drag purely out of curiosity, but I was won over by the band’s compelling songwriting and impressive musicianship. It wasn’t until I started looking at the liner notes that I put the pieces together.

Imperial Drag had a low-key hit from this album in the mid 90s characterizing the orgiastic sexuality that is part and parcel of late 70s nostalgia. Although not all of their lyrics are so obvious, rarely do two stanzas go by in any given song without some sort of innuendo or double meaning sneaking in. Sex looms so large on Imperial Drag that it’s hard to tell if its presence is tongue-in-cheek or if Eric Dover has a somewhat perverse side.

The album was sorely, but predictably, overlooked, which stands as a testament to the myopic nature of the late 90s music press. The little attention that they received for the album as a whole was generally negative, perhaps because it existed in a time when esoteric, folkish genuineness was more valued than clever semiotic play. In any case, the search for “The Next Nirvana” was so blinding that many great bands were left in the dark to fend for themselves. Imperial Drag ended in a flash and its members, again, split off into various projects.

Getting into Imperial Drag was one of the first steps I took as I began to follow Jellyfish’s members. Although Roger Joseph Manning has been extremely prolific, I have not followed Eric Dover after the band’s demise. I do know that he went on to play and sing in Slash’s Snake Pit, and also performed as a side man for Alice Cooper. In researching Imperial Drag, I also found that he has a new project called Sextus, which I have not examined too closely as of yet. Perhaps in the near future.

The previous post in this series is back here.
You can see where it goes next right here.

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