Phantom Planet (Epic Records)
By: Brad Halverson
There's apparently a law somewhere on the books that requires me to mention in the first paragraph of this review that Phantom Planet's drummer is Jason Schwartzman (aka the kid from Rushmore) and he quit the band after this album was completed. Now that I've fulfilled that obligation, let's move on to the review proper.
You know, there was a time when Phantom Planet was a very easy to describe band. They were pop in the truest and best sense of the word. Their second album, The Guest was a brilliant mish-mash of original melodies set right next to hooks borrowed from the bands' many obvious inspirations. Setting themselves up to be compared to their heroes was a ballsey move, and it more than paid off, as the album ended up being a love letter to the genre itself. With the band's self titled third album however, things have become a little difficult. Clearly the band still loves their childhood sweetheart of pop, but alas they've grown apart, and though this album doesn't quite equate to Dear John letter, they certainly seem interested in seeing other genres.
Your first impression of the album will probably result in you muttering "What the hell? Are they trying to be the friggin' Strokes?" After the album sinks in though, it becomes clear that yes, they are in fact trying to be The friggin' Strokes, but no more than they were trying to the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Radiohead, Weezer, and about two dozen other artists on their last album. The difference here is in the variety. Unlike their last outing, which took each song in a different direction, the 11 songs on "Phantom Planet" sound like they were all recorded in the same garage. But while the production is pure garage rock, there's a level of polish here that fits more in the world of pop. Sure the production is meant to sound dirty and unrefined, but the songcraft here is pure polish. Not since Weezer's first couple of albums has a rock album gone down this easy. It's a shame though that some of the songs tend to bleed into one another (especially during the louder first half of the album) until you really get to know them. Think of it as one of those albums, simple as it may be on the surface, that still rewards repeated listenings. Songs like "Making a Killing" that blended into their surroundings the first couple times through get their hooks into you a few listens in, and it won't be long till songs like "By the Bed" and "The Meantime" reveal themselves to be the expertly crafted pieces of work that they are.
For the most part, the songwriting here shows a band that's definitely maturing. In addition to simply being louder, the lyrics here make The Guest seem like a harmless album about girls and cars. In the world of Phantom Planet relationships fail, life isn't always fair, and rock music reigns supreme. The new focus gives the record a little more weight than its predecessor even if it sacrifices a little of the bands unique innocence in the process.
The fact that the band has partially abandoned their old style may be troubling to some, especially since their new style resembles the current flavor of the month, but I don't think there's anything to worry about. In fact while the shift is definitely a little shocking, and makes the band just a little less unique, it more than proves these guys' talent. The fact that they pulled this kind of thing off at all is quite a feat, but to make a unique, entertaining album out of something that could have very well been a trite little example of selling out to current trends is quite a feat indeed. This album is the very definition of pop-rock. It may not be pop perfection like their last release, but any fan of the genre owes it to themselves to check this one out. B+.