's first full-length album, Moon Safari
, was greeted with gushing reviews and great commercial success, not to mention the dubious honour of being 1998's dinner party
staple. Jean-Benoít Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, the parisian twosome behind the band had created an exquisite sound - romantic, playful and chic. Great things were expected of them.
Sadly, the 2002 follow-up, 10,000 Hz Legend, was a great let down, and although they had tantalised us with their haunting, understated soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, it seemed that Air were disappearing into self-indulgence and ill-advised reinvention. A soundtrack for the book City Reading by Alessandro Baricco, which Air themselves acknowledged that even their most devoted fans wouldn't want to buy, didn't do much to quash this perception.
One lunchtime in late November 2003, Radio 1 was playing in my office and a song came on that made several of us stop our work and listen. With a stirring melody and breathy, vocoder-twisted vocals, it was immediately recognisable as Air, but one thing made it different from anything they had produced in the previous few years: it was seriously good. The track was Cherry Blossom Girl, which was released in the UK on 19th January 2004 as the first single from the album Talkie Walkie, which was released the following week.
It seems that the band have rediscovered the qualities that made Moon Safari and their earlier EPs so compelling. It is a hopelessly romantic sound: the sound of sexy, sunny days, of falling in love. While the album has no carefree crowd-pleaser that quite reaches the heights of Sexy Boy or Kelly Watch the Stars, it is music-lovers' pop of the highest quality.
The album starts with what I find to be one of the weaker tracks. Venus's
cheesiness is forgivable, and even endearing, but I just find the vocals too dreary. Move on quickly to track 2, which is Cherry Blossom Girl. Hearing this for the first time excited me about the forthcoming album and further listening has caused me to fall in love with its simple charm. Next up is Run. This is the "space age" Air of Sexy Boy, with vocoders on stun, but is more relaxed and perhaps more sophisticated. Great stuff. Universal Traveler is much simpler, with acoustic guitars taking the place of most of the electronic trickery. A gentle song, reflecting on life across time zones. The instrumental track Mike Mills follows with a catchy melody on flowing keybords and guitar. Surfing on a Rocket is much more upbeat, and even more fiendishly catchy - I've been murmuring the 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... ze-ro bit all day. Number seven is Another Day. The track is good, apart from the vocals which feel a bit weak. Another instrumental, Alpha Beta Gaga is all jaunty whistling and synth bleeps. In a good way. Biological is a love song, expressing desire for someone all the way down to their blood and their very DNA. I'm slightly ambivalent about this track: I don't feel it quite works.
The album ends on a high, with the sublime Alone In Kyoto. A few days before this album was released, I saw the film for which the track was made: Sofia Coppola's excellent Lost In Translation. A very simple track, for me it captures perfectly the film's theme of finding something beautiful in the midst of solitude.
2004. Source. 43:27.
- Venus - 4:04
- Cherry Blossom Girl - 3:39
- Run - 4:13
- Universal Traveler - 4:22
- Mike Mills - 4:27
- Surfing On A Rocket - 3:43
- Another Day - 3:21
- Alpha Beta Gaga - 4:40
- Biological - 6:04
- Alone In Kyoto - 4:52