Air have been one of that groups that I felt I was supposed to like, though quite often they left me a bit cold. Sure, I own a copy of ‘Moon Safari’, but I think everyone of a certain age does. Sure, I’ve had a good old snog to ‘All I Need’ – but hasn’t everyone? It’s just that sort of track. Certainly their last few albums have passed me by completely – I’ve always just felt that there are other people who do the monged electronic love song thang a lot better. So this lands on the doorstep, I listen to about 3 bars, my jaw drops to the floor and my entire belief system is turned on its head. I almost feel cheated. How DARE they make a breathtaking album now? Nuts to it. They have whether I like it or not. Musically it’s come on in leaps and bounds – richer, darker and more organic but retaining the light electronic breeze that characterises the little Gallic tinkers.
Opener ‘Venus’ is a mish-mash of piano and gorgeous harmony that slips effortlessly into single ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’, which should be riding high in the charts as you read, gentle reader. ‘Run’ is what would have happened if Radiohead had decided that ‘Kid A’ had needed a cover of 10CC’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ (and makes me wish they had) whilst ‘Universal Traveller’ makes you realise what it is that sets Air apart – they’re not tied to the filters of using English as a mother tongue – so the rhythms that they fit their vocals to seem not just Gallic, but actually at times deliciously alien. ‘Mike Mills’ is a fairly pedestrian instrumental but is followed by the beautiful, epic ‘Surfing On A Rocket’ which sits somewhere between ‘Space Oddity’ and the theme music to ‘Button Moon’ – both extremely evocative pieces, I’m sure you’d agree. ‘Another Day’ plods along pleasantly enough, but is far from being any kind of high point.
Instrumental ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’ meanwhile is as bouncy and cheerful as you could possibly image and confirms once and for all that songs with whistling also have to include Roger Whittaker. ‘Biological’ still manages to confound expectation, because despite being the most ethereal track on the album, it also manages to include…. well, yes, a Theremin, but also… a banjo? It’s a weird world we live in. Closer ‘Alone In Kyoto’ will undoubtedly be used in some future Channel 4 documentary over stop-frame photography of a Japanese highway at rush-hour with the sun setting on the horizon.
Calling ‘Talkie Walkie’ a coming of age album seems a trifle unfair. Air’s problem has never been one of needing to age, but to find a way of outpouring their obvious inner joy and pain into music that wasn’t stifled by expectation, by fear, or by the need to feel cool. At last they’ve done it. It’s a great indication that they felt able to appeal as themselves in photo form on the front cover. This is Air laid bare, and by doing what we’ve always known that they’ve always wanted to, they’ve made a classic pop record – one that’s as much of a joy and a relief for us as it is for them. Treasure it, they’ve given you the little piece of themselves they’ve been dying to set free. 8.5/10