A couple of weeks into 2004, the slightly mad French duo Air returned to the charts with their third proper (discounting the odd remix album, compilation, film soundtrack, and audio book) studio album Talkie Walkie. Following three years after their “difficult” second album 10,000 Hz Legend, it’s a much more confident offering, with essentially no weak points and a whole pile of classics.
Talkie Walkie opens with Venus, a track every bit as exquisite as anything on Moon Safari (1998). It’s got piano chords, a strummed guitar, and huge pads with enormous LFO settings – every ingredient that you expect from Air. It’s even got a slightly bizarre lyric, delivered as always with a strong French accent. When the counter-melody reappears just thirty seconds from the end, it’s almost euphoric.
It would be easy to go to this level of detail for every track on Talkie Walkie. The first single Cherry Blossom Girl has many of the same ingredients, but this time mixes in a slightly trippy drum pattern to make one of the best songs of Air‘s career. If you don’t remember where you were when you first heard that flute section then you haven’t lived.
If you find some of their more experimental moments less palatable, you may think the repeated refrain of Run is a little over the top, but look a little further and you’ll find another deeply atmospheric and evocative piece. Universal Traveller is similarly exquisite, and the instrumental Mike Mills makes for an entertaining deviation.
Surfing on a Rocket follows. Although Air had rather prematurely given up on singles by this stage, this was the second release in some territories, and is definitely the most commercially accessible track on the album. Which, admittedly, may not be saying a lot – although excellent, this was never going to be the most successful album ever released (technically, it peaked at number two in the UK, so maybe it was more of a hit than I’m remembering).
Speaking of which, Another Day is definitely one of the best songs on the album, but realistically it was never going to be a single. But what Air do extremely well is the slow, plodding, track, full of atmosphere, and with a few odd experimental hints hiding in the background. Another Day hides a weirdly edited vocal pad sound playing the main chord pretty much all the way through, and the guitar, chimes, drums, and vocals are built around it – which may not sound too appealing, but it works very well indeed.
The third single (essentially the only single in the UK) Alpha Beta Gaga is probably my least favourite track on the album, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable, thanks to the simple fact that the melody is whistled. I couldn’t name any offhand, but I’m sure it appeared all over television shows and adverts at the time, and out of place though it may be, it’s certainly a fun track.
Biological seems rather low key when it starts off, the odd banjo line (if that’s what it is) and atmospheric frippery making for a very soft backing to the vocals. But when the chorus turns up for the second or third time the song will have completely got under your skin, and you will come to see it as one of the best moments of the album.
The ending is definitely low key – Alone in Tokyo is taken from the soundtrack to the film Lost in Translation, released the previous year. While not the most euphoric album closer ever, it’s every bit as atmospheric and dreamy as everything else on there, bringing one of Air‘s finest albums to a close in fine style.
The bonus live DVD is nothing particularly special, but for a few pounds extra it’s worth having, so go for this version of Talkie Walkie if you’re looking for a physical copy.