They sound reinvigorated, differently coloured, and full of fresh intentions.
WHEN PARISIAN duo Air broke through in 1998 with Moon Safari, they seemed exactly right for those relatively and eerily untroubled and prosperous times. Pop had reached a sort of hiatus, an interlude, in which their elegant tropicalia and retro-futurist antique synth tones were the most eloquent expression of what felt back then like the End of History, with nothing left to do but recollect pop’s epic past in perfect, sound engineered tranquillity. But what’s to be done with Air in 2009? Where do they sit? How effectively do they soundtrack our lives?
Love 2 does at least sound like a break with the Air of old, more detailed, evolved and upgraded. It represents an advance for Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, in that this is the first time the pair have produced themselves, working out of their own Atlas studio. On opener ‘Do The Joy’ they sound reinvigorated, differently coloured, full of fresh and rocky new intentions, working at a quicker, Krautrock-ish pace, which they attempt to sustain throughout the album. However, it’s not long before they slip back into their old, albeit winsome habits, with the rhythm box and lush, incidental tones of ‘Love’, while ‘So Light Is Her Footfall’ is a helium-light serving of blue-eyed soul soufflé.
Their battery of tricks and turns is a mix of old and new – the spangly electric keyboards, languid, bubbling wah-wah guitar and silvery, celestial analogue synth streaks of ‘Night Hunter’ ride alongside the woofer-vibrating belching ‘Moog of Be a Bee’. But there are less successful stretches. The vocals of ‘Heaven’s Light’ might have sounded engagingly naïve once but now seem cloying. The lengthy ‘Tropical Disease’, meanwhile, sounds as mouldy and throwaway as a ten-year old papaya.
Air would probably be hurt at such criticism – they’ve clearly worked hard on the handcrafting and interweaving of this album, and that’s clear enough on the lovingly collected menagerie of eclecticism that is ‘Eat My Beat’. The problem is, for all its sweet, elaborate guile and intelligent shading, the question of what Air really have of relevance to say or offer in the 21st century remains unanswered.
© David Stubbs, bbc.co.uk, 5 October 2009