Review Summary: Don't let the cover fool you. This album's dynamite. It's not the most original thing, but Phantom Planet's S/T is a welcome leave from their nerd rock roots, and they straight up pulsate. A great album, one way or the other.
Phantom Planet's self-titled third album has the hands down worst album cover of all time. Seriously, It's as though someone mixed digital fruity pebbles with Andy Warhol on LSD and threw it onto a white canvas just to see what happened. The kicker of the cover's suckiness however, is the fruity little bird/phantom/ghoul thing on the front. In a land where you can put a picture of nearly anything, including sound waves of a neutron star, and make it be creepy, Phantom Planet somehow did the impossible and picked the most non threatening image to pollute their already ridiculous album cover. It's like watching a 50's horror movie built off of cliché’s, and you just can't help but laugh every time you see "Run, Don't Walk from.... The Blob!!!" pop up in the opening credits. The simple reason for this is that Phantom Planet named themselves after a forgotten 60's flick. Good Lord.
This being said, Phantom Planet have never been considered geniuses in their trade. Their popularity (what little of it exists) stems from the banal "California" ballad, which is now the theme song of The O.C. (bitch!). On top of that, their willingness to hop on trends comes about 4 years after the trends start, so what is intended as keeping alive a hip vibe becomes contributing to the demise of said genre. Their first two albums, 1998's Phantom Planet is Missing
and 2003's The Guest
were mixes of the nerd rock of Weezer with alt rock balladeers of the nineties. Now in 2003, nerd rock hadn't been in for about 8 years, but Phantom Planet, bless their soul, stuck with it. When their stubbornness gave them no album sales, they realized that perhaps a change was needed. And thus Phantom Planet (3 years after everyone else) discovered The Strokes.
Phantom Planet's 3rd album is a complete change in direction. And because Phantom Planet want to be taken seriously, they pulled a Blink 182 and named their "reinvention album" after themselves. Anyway, the sound on Phantom Planet
is nothing like that of their old albums. It is, however, the sound found on nearly every urban indie album at the time of Phantom Planet
's release. What the self-titled album is in essence is a dirtied up Strokes record. The songs move along at upbeat tempos for the most part, courtesy of "Rushmore" actor Jason Schartzman, and their themes are largely party and/or you suck. Singer/Songwriter Alexander Greenwald not only sounds like Julian Casablancas mixed with Alex Kapranos, he stole their lyrics as well, that SOB. Greenwald however, can form coherent sentences, whereas Casablancas often throws together words that rhyme regardless of their sensibility. Greenwald's baritone bravado is energetic and actually puts some vigor into the people listening to him. The moving-too-fast feel of album opener The Happy Ending
(We'll ignore the obvious attempt at irony there) is perfect for the over the edge feel of Greenwald's sneering lines such as "Now the days go by, they pass right through us. Our night lives make us so useless". After the furious album opener, you begin to realize that perhaps Phantom Planet
won't just be a sober Strokes record, but in fact might be a great listen. If you ignore the total rip-off of Nirvana's "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" in the intro.
To Phantom Planet's credit, they emulate that energy of The Happy Ending
throughout the album, yet never have two songs sound the same. At times they sound so much harder than their predecessors, showing maybe more talent altogether. The bass lines of Sam Farrar are consistently edgy, and the distorted fuzz noise of his bass sets the grimier feel of Phantom Planet's songs. Credit must be given to Dave Fridmann here, as his producing tactics made the band much better than it was. His emphasizing on a Schwartzman crash-cymbal buildup or maybe an electronic feel on drumbeats adds that something extra that separates the good albums from the mediocre. His work with Farrar's bass is fantastic, particularly on tracks like the insanely catchy Making A Killing
and the slyly Monkee's influenced Badd Business
, where Farrar's bass underlines static and large amounts of distortion, creating a sick strut of a tune. Farrar and Schwartzman create a devilish rhythm section, and Schwartzman, unlike most men of the indie genre, isn't afraid to go nuts on a fill. This is a welcome breath of fresh air for metrosexual indie rock, and Schwartzman, as in "Rushmore", proves he's pretty much better than anyone else.
Phantom Planet's pension for riff heavy tunes proves to be a joyous return to maybe older style rock, where the vocals came in over riffs instead of chord progressions. Greenwald's accusatory rant in Big Brat
is set over another sweet Farrar line, all culminating in a knockout pound-the-door chorus of "Ahh Stand Back!" Greenwald's lyrical talents come in here, as he spits "It was all his fault, Introduced me to knowitall And the cannibal. By the time they started showing up, I ran the risk of blowing up. These times, these times get tough, So if i stay we're going to see who's had enough." Big Brat
is a culmination of Phantom Planet's best stuff, showcasing their upbeat feel, accusatory/party antics, and distorted tones all thrown together in a maniacally catchy fight-club banger. It even has a saxophone, those dirty bastards.
While it's true the boys of Phantom Planet can write a deftly catchy tune, when they slow it down for ballads, they can still maintain the energy of their foot stomping tracks. The first sign of a tempo change comes midway through Phantom Planet
, in the Jason Schwartzman co-written You're Not Welcome Here
. Because Schwartzman has his hands on it, needless to say it will be flat cool. The creepily evil bass line and half-time tempo of You're Not Welcome Here
is unexpected to say the least, especially in the crescendoing ending, where guitarists Darren Robinson and Jacques Brautbar solo up on minor notes, creating an extremely dissonant feel to an already macabre song. That quick glimpse into the mind of Schwartzman is quickly quenched by another Greenwald track, and Phantom Planet goes back to normal. From that point forth though, Phantom Planet
doesn't listen quite the same. Influences of post-punk seep into their music, such as the English Beat rip-off Jabberjaw
, a Cure heavy track, where echoing drums suggest maybe a little Stephen Morris. Greenwald reverts back to his older ways by the time After Hours
, a track that could very well have been placed on the latest Kasabian record (that needed all the help it could get), comes around, and the album is set back on track.
The album closes with a bang, which, if you've been listening for the last 36 minutes, is expected. The Meantime
is a mix between everything Phantom Planet claims as an influence. A highly percussive track, The Meantime
takes soundscaping vocals from Greenwald and places them over a Schwartzman beast of a drumbeat, complete with pulsing high-hats and tom rolls. This sets the backbone to Interpol-esque guitars, with one stuttering as the other slides non-chalantly up and down the fret board. The Meantime
summarizes much of the Phantom Planet
, when you think about it. Phantom Planet steal from the best, but steal well, and when mixed together it sounds great. Which in the end is what rock and roll's about. Besides, they have the "Rushmore" guy in the band. How could they go wrong?
Now if they could only fix that goddamn cover...
The Happy Ending
You're Not Welcome Here