Since the release of its 1998 debut, "Moon Safari," everything the French
duo Air has done has been compared to that brilliant set of melodic and
otherworldly ambient pop. It's as if Pink Floyd made its bow with "The Dark
Side of the Moon," and some critics and fans couldn't listen to anything
else the group recorded.
"That's true, but I really don't mind," says
Nicolas Godin, who formed the band with fellow multi-instrumentalist
Jean-Benoit Dunckel in Paris. "It's cool, because when I was a kid, I was
dreaming about classic albums, and I'm happy we did one. It's such a
fantastic achievement when you dream of making music and then you manage to
make an album that has an impact on people."
From this critic's perspective, the only down side is that many people
have unfairly missed the pleasures of subsequent releases, such as the
swirling electronic soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's 2000 film "The Virgin
Suicides," the more straightforward pop of "Talkie Walkie" (2004) and the
excellent new disc "Pocket Symphony," which once again strikes the perfect
balance between structured songs and dreamy soundscapes. Godin says it was
partly a reaction to working with singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of
cult legends Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, on "5:55" (2006).
"We had just finished the album with Charlotte, and we were very proud,
but we were fed up with writing songs and wanted to do something calmer. We
went to Japan just because we felt that we needed a break, and we wanted to
do a record more like the way we used to work. With Charlotte, the format
was verse and chorus, verse and chorus. We were working with a team, and
when you have an idea, it isn't explored unless it works as part of a song.
We never did that in the past. Sometimes, an idea would become a song, and
sometimes, we just had music that we liked. We write and record in the
studio, doing everything at the same time, and we just try to see where that
Where things ultimately went was a collection of tunes tied together by
beautiful instrumental passages forming a song cycle about falling in and
out of love. Brian Eno, the godfather of ambient music and one of Air's
biggest heroes, once said musicians should never write another love song,
because it's been done to death and it's impossible to avoid cliches. That
didn't stop Air from trying, or from coming up with distinctive tunes such
as "Napalm Love," "Photograph" and "Redhead Girl."
"It's true, the only thing musicians write about is love!" Godin says.
"We should be more original; we should sing about something else, because
there are too many songs about love. But we tried to do something different,
like 'Napalm Love,' which was inspired because we use all of these words to
describe love that are just so violent. Like 'falling in love'; who wants to
fall, you know? Or 'having a crush'; I don't want to be crushed!"
Somehow, though, every line Air sings has a way of sounding seductive.
Godin laughs. "We decided at the beginning that everything we sing we'd sing
in English, because we can say anything and it will sound cute with the
The influence of the band's surroundings can also be heard on "Pocket
Symphony" via the presence of koto and shamisen, traditional Japanese
stringed instruments that Godin spent a year learning to play. The final
factor: producer Nigel Godrich, best known for working with Radiohead, but
also on board with Air for "10,000 HZ Legend" (2001).
"Nigel's biggest influence is that he does not let us cross the line of
bad taste, because sometimes we can be very cheesy. But he is also very good
at sound engineering, and the record sounds great. That was especially
important because we wanted to do something very minimal, so if you have a
very deep sound, you can get a great a sound with just three instruments,
like on 'Night Sight.' "
As in the past, Air hopes to capture the ebb and flow of its new album on
stage. "We try to recreate the vibe of the record, because people want to
chill out," Godin says. "But after 20 minutes, we may do an up-tempo song or
two. It takes one or two weeks to find the feel that people like, but it's
cool, because we have so many records now, we can really pick out all the
Post-Ozzy Sabbath shines in 'Dio Years'
Most casual rock fans know Black Sabbath was one of the bands that laid
the foundation for heavy metal, and for them, the only lineup that matters
is fronted by singer Ozzy Osbourne. But when a drunken, drug-addicted Oz was
fired by guitarist Tony Iommi in 1980, Ronnie James Dio, formerly of Ritchie
Blackmore's Rainbow, came on board on vocals, joining a group completed at
various points by Sabbath mainstays Iommi, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill
Ward on drums (though he eventually left to battle alcoholism, too, and was
replaced by Vinny Appice).
Dio's Sabbath brought fresh energy to the classic dark and heavy sound in
the form of more concise songs and more rollicking tempos, showing the
influence of and being embraced by the bands and fans of the burgeoning New
Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Venom). This band made
one great album ("Heaven and Hell," 1980) and two pretty good ones (1981's
"Mob Rules" and 1992's "Dehumanizer") before splitting. Now, its best
moments are compiled on "Black Sabbath: The Dio Years," and Dio, Iommi, Ward
and Appice are touring as Heaven and Hell to celebrate.
The metal gods, now using "Heaven and Hell" as the band name, perform at
the Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim in Rosemont, after openers Megadeth and
Machine Head starting at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $32-$52 through
Ticketmaster. Call (312) 559-1212.
AIR; KATE HAVNEVIK'
• 8 tonight
• Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
• Tickets, $29.50
• (312) 559-1212