...An album that frustrates and bores in its steadfast refusal to confront the...
Chris White 2007
Back in the late 1990s, chill-out was big news. With its floating, languid melodies and relaxed, unobtrusive beats, the genre was lazily described as dance music for people who didn’t like dance music, even though in reality it was no more likely to inspire the frenetic throwing of shapes in packed nightclubs than the compositions of J.S Bach.
While names like Bent, Lemon Jelly and Kinobe received favourable reviews and decent sales, it was French duo Air who were the undoubted kings of the chill-out scene, with their debut album Moon Safari its crowning glory. Hit singles like “Sexy Boy” and “Kelly Watch The Stars” combined the euphoric electronic energy of compatriots Daft Punk with the effortlessly cool, laid-back pop sensibilities of Serge Gainsbourg, while elsewhere the band expertly mined influences from Faure to Floyd to achieve an atmospheric alchemy that was both deliciously mellow and curiously uplifting.
Nine years after Moon Safari, Jean Benoit-Dunckel and Nicolas Godin are back with album number six, Pocket Symphony. All the tried and tested Air trademarks are present and correct – rolling piano motifs and softly lilting acoustic guitars, squelching synthesisers and cooing Gallic vocals. The problem is, this is now 2007 not 1998, and a template that once seemed original and timeless now just sounds tired and predictable. Tracks like “Space Rider” and standout moment “Photograph” will be warmly received by longstanding fans of the band, but to be blunt, we have heard it all before, and done better than this.
The dreaded star guest vocalist, often as good an indication as any of an act’s flabby complacency, rears it head on a couple of occasions. Jarvis Cocker does his best to sound interested on the world-weary dirge of “One Hell Of A Party”, although he sounds positively inspired compared to Neil Hannon’s breathtakingly bland performance on “Somewhere Between Walking and Sleeping.” Maybe, like this reviewer, the Divine Comedy’s arch-fop felt closer to the latter state after listening to Pocket Symphony, an album that frustrates and bores in its steadfast refusal to confront the creative rut Air now seem all too comfortable occupying.