You will have heard about the concept of a “difficult second album” before – I was even musing on it this time last week. There are times when it’s more apparent, and times when it isn’t.
By 2001, Air had actually done quite a lot since Moon Safari, including reissuing debut compilation Premiers Symptômes, and the entire soundtrack to the film The Virgin Suicides. But their second studio album was 10 000 Hz Legend, released fifteen years ago this week.
It opens with Electronic Performers, which is a nice song if you like Air, but probably seems pretty pointless if you don’t, and the template is set.
Unless you were in France, there was only one single from this album, but How Does it Make You Feel? with lead vocals by Whisper, one of the speech options on an Apple Mac, was released as a lovely transparent 7″ and frankly deserved better – it’s a lovely, if totally bizarre song.
The one single which did make a dent worldwide was the lovely Radio #1, which comes next. As with both its predecessors, it would be difficult to take this entirely seriously, but it’s a great slice of 1960s-style pop, with a catchy chorus and a great video too. The eerily loud backing vocals at the end were supposed to sound as though someone was singing along to the song on the radio – and then drumming on the kitchen pots and pans.
There’s nothing particularly bad about the collaboration with Beck, The Vagabond – it’s just a little difficult to comprehend exactly why it happened. Still, even though it drags a little, it ends eventually, to be replaced by a dull instrumental, Radian.
Perhaps by design, all the charm of the first album and its neighbouring side-projects seems to have vanished, to be replaced by Gallic oddness. This album is, bluntly, a mixed bag at best.
Lucky and Unhappy and Sex Born Poison are both pleasant and worthy, but largely forgettable in the context of Air‘s wider discography. Then comes another of the forgotten singles, a French 12″ whose tracks would ultimately appear on the Everybody Hertz remix album, People in the City. It’s a catchy song, and honestly if more of the album had been like this, it would have been much more difficult to fault.
But it wasn’t, and the entirely questionable Wonder Milky Bitch follows, every bit as iffy as the name might suggest. Then the final non-single Don’t Be Light comes along, and is entirely brilliant. It’s difficult to fathom why, when they were capable of songs as good as this, they let some of the others squeeze through. But maybe they just wanted to be different.
Final track Caramel Prisoner is better than it sounds, an avant garde instrumental which probably closes the album off in a more satisfactory way than it really deserves. This was pretty much the definition of a difficult second album – probably difficult to make, and certainly, at times at least, difficult to listen to. Definitely not bad, but nowhere near as good as Moon Safari.
You can still find 10 000 Hz Legend from all major retailers. Because not all that many people bought it.