TALKIE WALKIE (2004)
Talkie Walkie. The title itself suggests a certain aura of cuteness, even if its diminutive suffixes no longer serve a primarily diminutive purpose. But the contents match the title: indeed, this is a lighter, happier record than 10,000 Hz Legend, and it helped restore the duo's critical reputation at a time when they were all set to join the back rows of faceless losers. A bit of help should also be credited to producer Nigel Godrich, who always brings a bar of Refined Musical Taste with him into every studio he visits.
One widespread opinion, with which I mostly agree, is that the album is somewhat of a compromise between the "symphonic ambience" of Moon Safari and the grim electronic bleeps of Legend. There's quite a bit of singing, mostly by guest vocalists I do not know anything about; there's quite a bit of sonic experimentation that could throw off the casual listener, yet not a single track goes overboard with it (e. g. 'Run' is occasionally derailed by the looped electronic pulse of 'run run run run', but is otherwise 10cc-type-chorus-adorned "adult contemporary"); and, sometimes, paranoia and carelessness are joined neck-to-neck under an oxymoronous yoke, as in 'Alpha Beta Gaga', which starts out as a vivid representation of a panic attack, but then, with just one little bit of whistling, is transformed into a catchy kiddie-like wordless singalong ditty.
The two singles were 'Cherry Blossom Girl' and 'Surfing On A Rocket'. The former could be seen as a belated paired response to 'Sexy Boy', another evocative acoustic-electronic mantra that is, predictably, gentler and more romantic than its predecessor (however, just as memorable, even if the airy chorus is a bit too close to the clichéd "look-at-me-I'm-so-sexy" style of Mylène Farmer, France's national pride and shame). 'Surfing On A Rocket', meanwhile, is a pretty energetic (for AIR) chunk of dream-pop whose jumpy electronic riff in the chorus gives an odd idea of what the process of 'surfing on a rocket' could really look like, but any track that gets me thinking about what it's like to surf on a rocket is OK by me, anyway.
If the record has a flaw, it may be extra smoothness; Legend at least had a few vigorous "jerk-ups", whereas Talkie Walkie runs at more or less the same volume and adrenaline level throughout, so much so that it's very easy to miss the special "minimalistic complexity" and non-triviality of the closing mini-suite 'Alone In Kyoto' (specially written by the duo for the soundtrack to Lost In Translation, along the lines of their continuing friendship with Sofia Coppola, an addicted sucker for Eurotrash if there ever was one). Don't do it; the track alone is worth owning the record, yet the record may take a few extra listens to ascend from the initial impression of relaxed, lazy elevator pap to the next level of artistic integrity. Thumbs up, heart-wise first, brain-wise slowly catching up.