Phantom Planet
Phantom Planet
2003
B-



phantom Planet’s last album, The Guest, emphatically embodied the inoffensive sunny California pop from yesterday, allowing them the chance to score the theme to The OC. Somewhere along the line, though, they decided to make music that didn’t sound just like The Beach Boys. Why this happened, I do not know. Maybe Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, PP’s erstwhile drummer) was the driving cornball influence in the group, despite being, you know, the drummer. Maybe lead singer Alex Greenwald’s latest pretty thing is some hip East Side socialite (he’s also a model/actor in addition to being a rock star). Maybe the group stopped leaving the room whenever the bassist started talking. Or maybe, as Spin writerSarah Lewittin puts it, the group found an iPod loaded with The Fall and Blur lying around the studio, which proceeded to change their pretty faces once and for all.

And if you stumble upon their official website, they’ve decided that they sound like "a fight between My Bloody Valentine, Fugazi ... Wire ... Guided By Voices, The Who, The Cure ... A Certain Ratio ... A.R.E. Weapons, Blur, Chik Chik Chik ... The English Beat ... Sean Paul, Magnetic Fields, Led Zeppelin, and whoever your favorite band is." Despite the utter pretension—and sadly pathetic perfidy—of throwing Mr. Paul in the mix, the unnecessarily long list is not all too untruthful. Surely more could be said here, but these are the reasons why kids start bands; they are the greatest of our generation and there’s certainly worse to steal your hooks from. Lead single "Big Brat" is all Mark E. Smith vocals, "Rudie Can’t Fail" saxophone, "Heartbreaker" riffing and "I Am The Fly" pub chorus, and if you’re white, that’s the best song you’ve ever heard.

Now I can’t say that some music is worse than others because it steals or borrows or lifts or plagiarizes or whatever, especially in this e-age of broadening our tastes. But while we/they danced in complete pride when De La Soul sampled Johnny Cash, the same group merely smiles when they see that new Jesus and Mary Chain Raveonettes video on M2, roll their eyes when Elastica nicked Wire and curse silently to themselves when Jet rips off Iggy Pop. In short: Phantom Planet has made a fine "record collection" album.

Even with the strategic omissions of the aforementioned Strokes and Fall from the list, the latter’s on-off chord switches, tempo breakdowns, and self-aggrandizing lyrics meet the former’s rowche rumble of noise ‘n blare with the most obviously dissonant ease. What we have here is an utterly precocious mess, which, like an eighth grade theater production, is unable to be taken seriously but still manages to emerge as a stable product (see: "After Hours", a handclap ballad posing as an oasis in the middle of chaos, apexes coherency simply by reigning it in).

The fracas aligns itself every so often under Greenwald’s steady songwriting, still unafraid to venture outside of predicted verses and choruses; and his wonderfully rediscovered voice, a salacious tribute to the great pretender voices of Casablancas and Smith, leering at you with their fingers crossed. "The Happy Ending" begins with bass and disjointed drumming and then Greenwald steps in with a leather jacket, a wall of tinny Stratocaster chords and a guitar solo that consists merely of feedback. I suppose it’s up to you to decide whether or not such genre-pillaging is a virtue or a hindrance; I expect Jet fans to understand.

The relentlessness of the pillaging becomes one of the album’s virtues—each song wildly varies from the next, revealing thirty-five minutes of noise and pop that extends far beyond the surface into a slowly decaying singalong monster. By "You’re Not Welcome Here", organized noise unmasks itself as a sheet of white noise and start-stop verses, a knowing yap climaxing into chopped up screaming. And sure, it might sound a little bit like Blur ca. 1999 or My Bloody Valentine ca. 1989, but for 211 seconds, Phantom Planet complete grip the listener without a trace of a wink.

Hooks pile on top of each other and it’s all fun and lively on Phantom Planet. Maybe as an aspiring songwriter myself, it’s just disconcerting to find out that even the pros are just really good at picking and choosing, if not for the same reason that it burns a hole in my heart to find out that bands don’t magically conjure songs up without building around riffs. But maybe, just maybe, it gives hope for the rest of us.
Reviewed by: Sam Bloch
Reviewed on: 2004-02-17
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