After taking a detour into near-mediocrity with 2001’s 10,000 Hz Legend, Air’s Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin have successfully proven the theory that it’s not a bad idea for a band to return to a formula that’s worked in the past. Like Air’s 1998 debut Moon Safari, Talkie Walkie is short on guest spots, interspersed with dizzying instrumentals and peppered with catchy, novel melodies.
The French duo has managed to carve a comfy niche in ambient electronic pop, even with a rather small catalog in a six-year span. Some "performers," as Dunckel and Godin dub themselves on Legend, flood the market with an inconsistent line of releases; with some releases obtaining classic status, others just fall short.
So Air takes its time. Moon Safari drops and it’s a mind-blowing debut, a blend of low-key psychedelia and warm 1970s roller rink specials. The score for The Virgin Suicides, Oscar-nominated Sofia Coppola’s first directorial effort, is easily as creepy as the movie, but works as its own collection of spacey, unsettling Floyd-esque compositions. 2001’s 10,000 Hz Legend falls a bit short of its mark, straying from Air’s knack for melody and working in songs that take too long to lift off. But Talkie Walkie, the band’s first studio album since Legend, pulls ’em out of the rut.
The standout tracks on Talkie Walkie are as weighty as the hits on Moon Safari, and while they’ve obviously come a long way since 1998, the two albums could easily appear alongside each other in a gatefold LP. "Venus" sounds as if it is being unveiled in a large opera hall, with pulsing drums and reverberating hand claps. Again, Air has opened with the better half of Dark Side of the Moon, the side that isn’t boring as hell.
"Cherry Blossom Girl" is gorgeous and flowing, their new contribution to electronic folk. It’s sadly a pure work of fiction, however, as Air’s mojo is questioned: "I don’t want to be shy / Can’t stand it anymore / I just want to say hi to the one I love." For a minute or so, Air’s self-confessed inability to communicate with the opposite sex is nearly plausible. There are heavenly harmonies here that haven’t surfaced since those on "Sexy Boy," and the chorus’ meandering flute keeps the distant-sounding verses even further away.
Talkie Walkie‘s instrumentals, one being "Mike Mills," are effectively placed in the track list and call to mind those on Mellow’s CQ film score. "Mike Mills" will appear in a friend’s film when it makes its rounds, and its cinematic complexity will certainly serve its purpose. But like the Virgin Suicides score, Air doesn’t need no stinkin’ movie — the atmosphere constructed here is strong enough to stand on its own.
The band’s childlike space fetish is immortalized for CD yet again in "Surfing on a Rocket," and while it sounds as kitschy as Air can be, its delicate tempo and vocals move in steady takeoff ascension. The band’s ability to return to what first solidified their output, without producing a carbon copy, is Talkie Walkie‘s foundation. Air has managed to generate new works of art in the vein of their old ones, taking with them only the Moon Safari schematics and producing jewels of skyscraper — or rather, rocket — proportions.