Air makes great soft-core-porn music. At least seven of the 10 songs on the new Air album Talkie Walkie could back the drawn-out slow-motion sex scenes to those old dubbed-in-English Emmanuelle skin flicks and, in some of those instances, actually improve the aesthetic. The tunes really are that evocative of the long-gone '70s free-love era.
Talkie Walkie, as a result, is very sexual, very androgynous and very, very European. It is simultaneously warm in its construction and icy in its execution, like the best of those old Giorgio Moroder movie scores (think Midnight Express). Frenchmen Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin have an awesome ability to find just the right electronic manipulation for the mood they're trying to convey. On most of the songs, male and female voices moan with the same detachment, so that when Dunckel sings the line, "You could be from Venus/I could be from Mars/We will be together," he sounds like he could be from either. He sings those lines in the context of a gorgeous melody surrounded by piano chords and weird sci-fi synth wails; his longing is made palpable solely by the song's atmospherics.
The album draws repeatedly on a strong sense of drama. "Surfing on a Rocket," for example, uses snaking guitar, echoing percussion, acid-rock bass and a bizarre succession of analog keyboard notes in the bridge to propel the song's depressive lyric about never wanting to be seen again. It makes disappearing from sight sound dreamy. Meanwhile, the short instrumental "Mike Mills," with its whimsical Moog and piano solos and precious string arrangement, evokes two separate feelings: the equivalent of a romp in the woods with a nudist colony or a lonely trip through the sexually hungry soul (Mike Mills himself has helped R.E.M. achieve the effect of the latter for years). The tension, always, is beautiful.
Much like Emmanuelle, Air wants to take its listeners through a series of sensual adventures on Talkie Walkie. And like the fictional starlet, Dunckel and Godin largely achieve their goal by titillating and never fully revealing themselves, preferring to let the sexuality and the freedom it represents do most of the talking.