Pocket Symphony Label: Astralwerks
Here’s a brain teaser for ya: if you get the latest CD from a band you love, but you don’t find yourself wanting to play it over and over – this despite liking what you hear when it does play – is that an indictment of the album or the writer? Is the music pleasant but disengaging, or is the writer (and by the writer, I mean, well, me) imposing that impression on the album because he can’t think of anything snappy to say about said album?
All right, enough third-person nonsense. I love Air. Their 2004 album Talkie Walkie was one of my favorites from that year, right up there with their 1998 instant classic Moon Safari. As for their latest, Pocket Symphony…I have no defense for the overwhelming indifference I feel for this album. It is by no means a bad record. It even features guest appearances from former Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and Divine Comedy ringleader Neil Hannon, both of whose work takes up a significant chunk of my CD collection. And yet, despite an Air/Hannon/Cocker trifecta that registers a 9.5 on the Medsker Wet Dream scale, the album is…fine. All right, it’s better than fine, I know that in my heart of hearts. But it’s really good in the most forgettable way imaginable.
Let’s start with the guest performances by Hannon and Cocker. Jarvis sings on “One Hell of a Party” – an interesting title, since this track would stop any party dead in its tracks, save perhaps a Mazola party – which continues the Far East fascination of Talkie Walkie closing track “Lost in Kyoto.” Cocker’s helpless whine is all wrong for the song, which demands something a little more detached. Neil Tennant, perhaps? Yes, Neil Tennant would have been perfect. But the song would still only be just okay. “Once Upon a Time” is cool in a “Universal Traveler” kind of way, and “Napalm Love” is as close to bouncy as things get. As for Hannon’s contribution, “Somewhere between Waking and Sleeping,” well, I’ve now listened to it ten times, and I can’t tell you anything about it.
The band consciously got back to doing more instrumentals, and that’s cool. After all, “La Femme D’Argent” and “Mike Mills” are two of the band’s best tunes. But the instrumentals here are more Virgin Suicides than Moon Safari, and that’s not so cool. “Mayfair Song” plods along, as does “Lost Message.” Yes, these guys are known for their after-hours cool, but a lot of the material here is just gloomy. Air’s not a gloomy band, damn it. This is unacceptable. Oh, and don’t drive while listening to “Night Sight.” If you do, you will fall asleep at the wheel and die in a horrible, horrible crash.
This is not the time to feel sorry for Air. They could sell ten copies of Pocket Symphony, and people are still going to line up to work with them and record labels will line up to sign them. But it would be nice to see them get a swift kick in the kitten just the same if it would lighten them the hell up. They once daydreamed about teaming up with Daft Punk to make a new record for George Michael. God, does that sound good right about now.