Air – The Virgin Suicides

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Album Review by Nigel A. Messenger

Back in 1998, when Air’s debut album MOON SAFARI came out, French music was considered very de rigueur. Daft Punk had introduced the pop world to the charms of quirky gallic techno, but it was Air’s MOON SAFARI, with its mixture of sci-fi melodies, vocoder vocals and French cool, that really stole people’s hearts.

While we wait for the duo of Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin to work that magic all over again with album number two (the re-released EP “Premieres Symptomes” was merely a retrospective cash-in), we have this, the soundtrack to the forthcoming directorial debut of Sofia Coppola.

While it is natural to treat this body of work as an album like any other, we must not forget that this is a film soundtrack. Taken out of the context of the narrative and visuals, the music exists in a bit of a vacuum. It has to be pretty strong to be able to evoke the images it has been designed to accompany, at least until you see the film. I don’t know what THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is about, but I’d guess it’s not a drugged-up slow-motion crawl through the seedy back streets of Paris. Because that’s what it sounds like here.

The tone is set from the opening track, PLAYGROUND LOVE, a mellow, jazzy number whose melody re-emerges later on HIGHSCHOOL LONER and AFTERNOON SISTER but with the saxophone replaced by a piano and organ respectively. Guitars creep into the mix on BATHROOM GIRL, but only to back up the late night lounge vibe – they make more of an impact on THE WORD HURRICANE where the synths build up into howling flanged guitar chords and stabs of piano.

Elsewhere, the trademark Air space-age effects surface, notably on DIRTY TRIP and GHOST SONG, but unfortunately neither of these is a patch on KELLY WATCH THE STARS or SEXY BOY from MOONS SAFARI. DIRTY TRIP has an engaging bass line but not a lot else – its six minutes seem to go on forever without actually going anywhere; GHOST SONG, on the other hand, seems to be over before it really begins.

The rest of this, I’m afraid to say, is ambient filler…with two exceptions – the last two tracks. DEAD BODIES kicks off with mad country piano and bass, then dissolves into a beautifully melodic keyboard line, with sampled choral backing and live drums. Shame its only three minutes long. The final track, SUICIDE UNDERCOVER is almost epic in comparison with the rest, clocking in at a massive five and a half minutes. A processed voice dispassionately narrates a rather depressing tale of suicide against a background of creepy acoustic guitar and distant church organ.

All in all, this is no follow up to MOON SAFARI but no-one ever said it was going to be. The lack of drama until the last two tracks (with the exception of THE WORD HURRIACE) lends the music a somewhat unfinished feel. I’m not so sure it works outside the context of the film and I have a feeling a lot of Air aficionados expecting a new album are going to be disappointed.

4 stars