Post-9/11, Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter infamously (and prematurely) declared the end of irony, and took a media beating for it. Somewhere in Silver Lake, California, though, five guys must have been wondering what all the fuss was about; how could there be an end to something they'd never registered the beginning of? Such is the straightahead, achingly sincere world of Phantom Planet, a Weezer minus the geek angst; Ben Folds Five without the smarm.
Expert producing team Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake (American Music Club, Los Lobos, Latin Playboys) have slicked up the Planet's power-poppy sophomore outing, The Guest, with their distinct studio sheen; this ain't no two-mikes-and-an-eight-track affair. Opener and first single "California" is an appropriately epic entry in both the Golden State-as-Valhalla and life-as-a-rock-'n'-roll-road-dog pantheon, kicking off with a catchy keyboard intro, strumming guitars and the cascading "California here we come/Right back where we started from" chorus before dissolving into soaring emo-wails of the title state. "Always on My Mind," with its boppy hand-clap chorus, and the lilting "One Ray of Sunlight" follow, reveling in their unabashed AM-radio dynamic and sweetly simplistic lyrics.
Other times, as on the dreadfully earnest "Anthem" ("Cuz this whole world needs an anthem, and I'm trying to put the words where they belong/Yeah this whole world needs an anthem, and I'm hopin' everyone will sing along"), the band falls over the cliff into Up With People inanity. "Darkest Hour" pulls singer Alex Greenwald into the punchier world of no-wave guitar stutters and strangled vocals, and the band actually threatens to get sexy there for a minute, before blossoming into another bouncy chorus. The spare "Turn Smile Shift Repeat" is likely the least straightforward (and thus most interesting) track on the record -- all echo-chamber Thom Yorke atmospherics and oddly complementary Bill Withers organ lines -- while "Nobody's Fault" tears a page straight from Froom/Blake alumnus Elvis Costello's archives.
Phantom Planet's members certainly know their influences. What they don't quite seem to know fully yet is themselves (though you may know their drummer; he's Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman).
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The Guest is a light, sweet snack that evaporates long before it's digested -- which doesn't necessarily mean you won't enjoy the empty calories.