IF, AS SOME believe, 1998 is to be the year that France finally produces pop music of international appeal, then synth duo Air are the lads most likely to do it. Where previous Gallic popsters have gamely hacked away at Anglo-American-styled rock, Air gently whip up something more akin to a soufflé, one thing at which the French have no equal.
The results are fluffy and beguiling: ‘Sexy Boy’, the hit single from their Moon Safari debut, sounds like the kind of gossamer pop that Stereolab and St Etienne strive to make, but it’s completely lacking in the ponderous irony that weights those bands’ records with cloying kitsch. There’s no smug half-smiles or wryly raised eyebrows here — they’re simply concerned with making Kraftwerk’s great pop prophecy come true, with synthesising moments of tenderness and balm through their machines.
They’re aptly named: where their compatriots Daft Punk deal in the earthiest of techno stomps, Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit Dunckel operate at the opposite end of the elemental spectrum, with breezy, ethereal tones.
My only misgiving about would be Air’s over-reliance on vocoder vocals. Certainly, ‘All I Need’ and ‘You Make It Easy’ are all the more striking for the contributions of American chanteuse Beth Hirsch, whose presence animates their soundscapes in a way that Beth Orton struggles to achieve on her equivalent work with The Chemical Brothers. But then, Air’s balmy pastoralism is a long country road away from the Chemicals’ fearsome urban Sturm und Drang. An angelic delight.
© Andy Gill, The Independent, 16 January 1998