Oh this reviewing lark is tiring, I feel like a production line lately. Is this what people want from this blog? It’s tough to tell if the little band of followers are interested, or if it’s just people dipping in and out by random Google searches! Either way, people are still viewing, so it can’t be all bad, I just need to find something a little less labour-intensive.
But anyhoo, I’m not cool. This has been obvious for some time now, but as I get older I feel like maybe sometimes I need to just chill out and listen to something low-energy, but without being depressing (sorry Adele) or difficult (sorry Bjork – but you had it coming). So I dug into my archives and plucked out French chillout merchants Air’s 1998 debut long-player. I’d long been a fan of the three singles, and they have this unassuming French coolness about them, not aloof, quite loveable in fact. So what would I make of their most successful album to date? (he says, no checking his stats)…
08 La Femme D’Argent – Very familiar soundbed for countless TV shows (and not the last track to be used as such). It’s got a lovely lo-fi 70s lounge music feel to it, with some bubbly flourishes to keep things fresh. Though I would never have identified the track, it’s so familiar to me. Imagine a soundtrack to a holiday programme aimed at comfortably well-off 30-somethings, and this is it. Relaxed, and even over its extended 7-minute duration, it’s too easy to get annoying.
09 Sexy Boy – Notorious breakout hit for the band. A croaky insistent vocodered riff throughout is another instantly recognisable moment. Simple vocals, repeating “Sexy boy” for a chorus, it just fills yet another TV soundtracking niche with ease. The gently high-pitched chorus is dreamy and distinctive, while the floaty synth section keeps things moving. It’s just so… FRENCH. You’d struggle to think of a better poster-child for a more palatable but supercool act from this period.
10 All I need – The sparse synth effects throughout the song are a rare reminder of the previous tracks, while this is a much more traditional acoustic chillout number. The vocals on this really are gorgeous, fragile and perfect for the tenderness of this track. After two relatively novelty-courting singles (after Sexy Boy and Kelly Watch The Stars), this was a serious effort to convert those whose interests had already been piqued. This was a serious affair, and I think I love it more than the rest of their lighter moment. That pulsating synth that comes in halfway through really just makes it for me.
08 Kelly watch the stars – Memorable for its offbeat table-tennis championship video, this reigned the duo’s novelty appeal back in, but still maintaining their intrigue. It certainly worked for me, even if it needed a fun video to shore up the appeal for a song that is quite slow to get things moving. There are a few interesting stages later on musically, but its core it’s a bit of a one-trick pony.
07 Talisman – With the singles out of the way, what next? I think it’s fair to say that their mainstream appeal isn’t to be depended on, at least as far as singles are concerned. While the beat kicks up a bit after a minute, there’s not a great deal going on here. There’s this rather downbeat noise every so often, like a howling dog, I’m not sure I like that. The strings are always a great addition to a song, and it really does build the song up towards the end, but it’s a little too repetitive for me.
07 Remember – The vocoders are out in force again, and a shuddering beat kicks in shortly after. The song is a bit hapless, the strings and spooky noises just have this sense of hopeless comedy, like a sad-looking cartoon dog. I don’t think that makes any sense except in my head. A few moments of chord progression just click with me somehow, it’s a nice track to listen to, so naturally it’s the shortest one… boo…
07 You make it easy – An Arctic wind, a sparse woodblock beat. Then that gorgeous vocal starts up, possibly the same as lady from “All I need”. Her voice is a bit weak, which suits well sometimes, but other times it just feels a bit wishy-washy. The “downtown” bits just have this lovely warmth to them, but it’s just so brief. Like the rest of the song is in the wrong key. This should sound like a happier song than it is. Then suddenly there’s that surprising burst of strings and excitement. What’s going on?? A nice feature, but doesn’t really do anything to fix my original criticism.
08 Ce Matin La – The morning is here? I gave up French years ago, it could mean anything. Anyway another nice soundtracky moment, gentle acoustic guitar and some smooth trumpetting. Then a lovely string mini-section, it’s quite an uplifting track, just what I needed by this point. A little cheesy but full of warmth. Those little harmony moments really give that bit more depth to it too, good one.
06 New star in the sky – Another downbeat one, again the acoustic guitar comes out with a few sad chords. That vocodered harmonica thing (no idea what it’s called) adds even more weight to a pretty maudlin-sounding track. I must admit I’m struggling to concentrate on it really, but then this is probably not an album that benefits on too much devoted listening, it’s served best as it has been – as a soundtrack. Nice enough but I’m getting quite fidgety now…
05 Le Voyage de Penelope – Right, last orders now. It’s a bit of a bore to finish off, sadly, more of the same shimmery electro swirls over a boring beat. Maybe I’m missing the point, perhaps I’m having schlager withdrawal symptoms. I need to go and put some karaoke music in my car already. I mean I suppose it’s OK as a soundtrack, but I don’t particular need this in my life.
so there we are. I’d probably give a greatest hits collection a listen, but as far as an album I’d be keen to put on for the sake of listening and not soundtracking, I think I might be barking up the wrong tree. They are very easy to listen to, though at times it’s easy to forget you’re listening at all! Perhaps that’s TOO easy. They’ve obviously got a good talent and a defined sound, so I can’t really argue with that.
Keepers for the iPod: Sexy Boy, Kelly Watch the Stars, All I need, Ce matin La, You make it easy