The concept of the poser became prevalent sometime in early middle school. Those who skateboarded scoffed at those who didn’t but who proudly wore Vans anyway. Some kids listened to rap, but the posers only listened to Kris Kross and got an earful about it. The cross of the poser was only fixed upon any one person, though, because it was intrinsically obvious that person was, in fact, faking.
In the ultimate middle school tradition, Phantom Planet’s eponymous third full-length sees the band as nothing but a bunch of posers. The California-bred pop stars are now dressing (musically, not literally) like a New York garage band. Phantom Planet is the band’s desperate attempt to reach out to a more testosterone-filled fan base. They must’ve realized that their concert-going audience consisted of high school girls twiddling their thumbs, waiting patiently for the band to play the theme from The O.C..
If Phantom Planet proves anything, it’s that this band no longer has any reason to exist. Let’s take a moment to remember what made Phantom Planet a decent band prior to this album: First was Jason Schwartzman’s fantastic drumming, highlighted by his use of beautifully misplaced swing fills. Second, nods to getting happy Elvis Costello-style coupled nicely with a sound that recalled Weezer’s blue album. And, most importantly, they put out “California,” one of the best songs ever to come out of the mid-nineties, in 2002.
But the new album signifies a new era for Phantom Planet. Schwartzman, though he does appear on this album, has quit the band and taken the band’s youthful optimism with him. Most of the Costello influence has been abandoned in favor of attempts to sound more like the Pixies, which usually culminate in rather uninteresting one-measure riffs. Even the sound that leaned toward “In the Garage” has been swapped for a style that actually resembles a band in a garage.
Entering into the garage-rock-revivalist realm is a step backward for a formerly good pop-rock band, but Phantom Planet improves on the genre. “By the Bed” bears an uncanny Strokes resemblance, but it entertains a more complex structure and more depth than anything on either Strokes album. The band’s gift for pop melodies adds a new layer to the semi-grungy sound, and the initially confusing presence of producer Dave Fridmann, who’s worked with the more intricate Flaming Lips and Mogwai, keeps the songs well polished.
Unfortunately, Phantom Planet no longer bears the saving grace of its previous albums, which was that the songs were so upbeat that it was difficult not to like them. Now these friendly Californians want to act angry, but they failed to convince me they were anything more than “posers.”