Hurrah! It’s the hotly-anticipated return of everybody’s favourite Frenchmen. As you may well know, Air’s Talkie Walkie is tipped as a return to form following the likes of 10,000Hz Legend and Everybody Hertz, which generally received lukewarm reviews at best.
Thankfully for all Air fans, Talkie Walkie is very much a nod towards their critically acclaimed Moon Safari, an LP that has stood as king of the ambient genre since its release in 1998. It can, however, be more readily compared to their soundtrack for Virgin Suicides, an album that appears to be grossly undervalued by many.
Talkie Walkie is classic Air, and showcases their trademark dreamy melancholy. We find that the boys have embraced minimalism since 2001’s hit-and-miss 10,000Hz Legend, and many tracks consist of a sparse drum loop, few instruments and the most basic but beautiful vocal harmonies. Tracks like Cherry Blossom Girl and Run could have been written years ago, such is their resemblance to now-classic Air tracks such as All I Need and Ce Matin La.
Unsurprisingly, we only have to wait until the fourth song Universal Traveler to hear some tranquil Spanish guitar and simple yet curious lyrics (“If you have a look / Outside on the sea / Everything is white / It’s so wonderful”). In the end we are left with little doubt that this is the best thing Air have produced in years, and we still have over half an album to go.
Like many of Talkie Walkie’s tracks, the subsequent Mike Mills is devoid of any kind of vocals, and yet, like Moon Safari’s best offerings, is exceptionally rich, both sonically and emotionally. Surfing On A Rocket is perhaps a more languid interpretation of Don’t Be Light, and whereas Another Day passes by somewhat disappointingly, Alpha Beta Gaga is Air at their quirky peak, incorporating whistling, cool retro electronic ambient sounds and not a hint of lyrics.
The album is strong throughout, and Biological boasts a sparse and melancholic verse which somehow fits perfectly with an uplifting banjo chorus. In addition we find English lyrics that could only be thought of by French speakers (“Thousands of hairs / Two eyes only / … It’s you”), sung with Air’s remarkably endearing French inflection.
Talkie Walkie is the perfect start to 2004, and the wistful landscape it paints will make you dig out Moon Safari once more: Air at their very best.