January 30, 2004
Air : Talkie Walkie
They’re not just for dinner parties, they’re for life...
8 / 10
First things first. Air
have long ago spoken of their desire never to make another 'Moon Safari'. What would be the point, they’ve said, when their debut album, released six years ago this month, still shifts units every day and can be experienced wafting like some soothing civic scent through malls, lifts and public transport facilities around the world, subliminally serenading shoppers. And anyway, interminable bores Zzzero 7 are back soon with another ‘Moon Safari’ clone…
Admittedly, Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin mentioned this in the spring of 2001 while defending their largely misunderstood second album, ’10,000 Hz Legend’. With that grand opus, Air indulged themselves utterly, fashioning a brave progressive work that many found too turbulent and challenging, especially for sensitive ears seduced by ‘Moon Safari’’s fragrant soft-pop. Certainly, with its complex arrangements and unorthodox sounds, its all-star cast and pretentious imagery, ‘…Legend’ seemed like a concerted effort to bamboozle fairweather fans, to ask, "Are you coming wizzus on zis trip or not?" Indifferent, most simply shrugged and bought Röyksopp’s ‘Melody AM’ instead. It wasn’t quite commercial suicide, just, it transpires, an elaborately faked death.
Now, having killed off their back catalogue through extensive touring and knocked out a soundtrack or two, this remarkable French group, for whom reality is a sketchy memory, return with ‘Talkie Walkie’, their third and, in many ways, best album. Viewed by some as the "make or break" moment ofAir’s career, ‘Talkie Walkie’ should confound the doubters because it delivers sublime Air
-ness on every conceivable level. You could not hope for a more <Air -like album. This is Air squared, Air
to the power of…Air? It is light and fluffy, of course, but tender and romantic, synthetic and soulful, too. It sounds, effortlessly, new and different, fresh and focused, clean and Zen, no doubt the outcome of Godin and Dunckel’s decision to play and programme all the instruments and perform all the vocals on the record themselves in Paris without any external assistance, a la ‘Moon Safari’.
‘Talkie Walkie’ is Air’s pop-art masterpiece, as tinglingly hyper-real and alien as one of those paintings of toys and sweets from American artist Jeff Koons’ Easy-Fun Ethereal series, its immaculate sheen polished at the final stage by Radiohead and Beck producer Nigel Godrich in LA. Godin and Dunckel’s sympathetic marrying of classic songwriting and gentle electronic experimentation has resulted in an album that nestles somewhere between Nick Drake and Aphex Twin, that links 10cc to Boards Of Canada, Mozart to Muzak,
but which possesses a simple emotional resonance that belongs uniquely to Air.
In terms of what’s presently cool to listen to, however, ‘Talkie Walkie’ is deeply unfashionable. This is definitely not rock’n’roll, more an intoxicating dose of flower power, a deluxe digital dream. That said, ‘Surfin’ On A Rocket’ blends a smudgy garage swagger with a naïve sci-fi sensibility, recalling Neil Young’s doomed 1982 synth-rock LP ‘Trans’. But trends have never bothered Air. Their imaginary world is what they sell to the public and this album finds them refining that sensuous medium of expression that made ‘Moon Safari’ such an unforgettable delight. Here, ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’ and ‘Biological’ are delicate and sober songs about love and the basic need to be loved, cooed by Dunckel and addressed to their partners. On ‘Run’, Air distill their very essence into four marvellous minutes, melting speech software, rhythmic tics and an ultra-lush sound-wash to create a heartbreakingly beautiful love song. You’ll wish this track would last forever.
‘Mike Mills’ and ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’ are unfeasibly pleasant instrumentals, the kind of instantly familiar flights of fancy you can’t believe you’ve never heard before; those Air specials for which lazy advertising executives and TV producers will be eternally grateful.
‘Talkie Walkie’ deserves to do as well as ‘Moon Safari’. There’s no question that it’s a better record, a different record, written by a pair of supremely talented and greatly improved musicians enjoying total mastery of their studio and sound, who aren’t afraid to take risks for fear of offending their audience. Simply, this is Air doing what Air do best. They’re not just for dinner parties, they’re for life.
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