review by: Ignacio Coluccio
Air's career has been accompanied by a fair amount of hype, but their constant style changes have rendered it a little useless. After all, their releases are nothing like each other. 10,000khz was grandiose, while Talkie Walkie was a three times more polished version of their poppiest attempts. Pocket Symphony is no 10,000Hz Legend, no Talkie Walkie, and no Moon Safari, that's for sure, but it's no Virgin Suicides either, even if it bears more resemblance to the American film's soundtrack than to those other "stand-alone" Air releases.
Pocket Symphony works like a soundtrack, not like a symphony. It's not a concept album, but it certainly feels like one. There's a sense of progression from song to song that wasn't found at all on 10,000hz Legend, and even less on the pop-oriented, song-based, Talkie Walkie. Not to say that it's not a pop album; Air's always been a pop band, like it or not, but they are not, well, commercial; they don't need to shove cheesy love songs down your throat... just snob love songs or songs about Japan's sea... or something. But anyway, Pocket Symphony is one of those albums that works only if you're paying attention, and if you listen to it from beginning to end more than once.
Both stylistically and compositionally, Pocket Symphony is quite a big departure from the catchy songs and simple but effective hooks of Talkie Walkie: this is everything but simple. It is effective and catchy, too, though not as much as before, but even the simplest songs are made by layers and layers of acoustic guitars, vocals, the typical Air synths and whatever else they felt like playing. Also, the chord progressions are more Erik Satie or even more like their own "Surfing on a Rocket." The biggest change, however, is that their sound is way more organic than their previous albums. Synths are now in the background, guitar playing on the foreground, and the multilayered vocals on top of it all. Even in the songs where they would have used synths as the lead instrument, like on "Mer du Japon," the guitar's still at the center, and it works.
Well, the whole album _works_, it's just a little bit less Air than anything else they've done, even if just as brilliant. The only problem is that the singing on about half of the songs is there just so they can say their album isn't mostly instrumental; songs like "Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping" didn't really need vocals.
Fans of their first releases might like Pocket Symphony more than Talkie Walkie, but fans of their "Surfing on a Rocket"-like stuff will probably hate the technically much superior Pocket Symphony because it doesn't really have the same accessible, ‘80s-gone-French-pop sound. (8.5/10)
PS: Note: I totally hate the Opendisc crap they put on Air albums. You know, I bought Talkie Walkie so I could listen to it on my own PC, but it was easier just to listen to the MP3 version of it, and it seems like they pulled off that shit here too. Gah.