There are few curses that are worse for bands than having your first full length widely recognized as a masterpiece. The list of artists who have been able to maintain their level of quality after such a feat is very, very short, and sadly Air doesn't exactly top it. Ever since the 1998 modern classic Moon Safari (and even the masterful soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides), Air, while never releasing an outright bad record, have seemingly struggled to measure up. With the way so many point out how Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel produced the new album themselves this time around (a first) , one would think that perhaps Love 2 would outshine its predecessors; this is not the case. While Love 2 certainly shows glimmers of their abilities, with the exception of a handful of tracks, the record overall shows little value more than simply being Air's latest.
Do the Joy is a remarkable opening track, featuring a dark, almost dingy sounding distorted guitar quickly contrasted with the bright synths, piano, and echo-plastered vocals Air has become known for. Mostly, it's the ingenious layering of sounds that keeps the song an interesting slab of downtempo. However, after a poor transition into the lacking Love, it becomes evident that Air's self production has not contributed to anything better than what we've seen of them throughout the decade. Right away we are treated to unflattering repetition (namely in hearing the word "love" about eight thousand times), characterless interweaving of bland hooks, and perhaps worst of all, an overabundance of the kitsch that Air was once so impeccable at showing in plentitude while never wearing out its welcome.
This trend continues until we hit Love 2's nadir with Tropical Disease, which starts out with an intriguing piano and saxophone, but quickly gives way to an uncompelling upbeat mixture of a flute accompanying the rolling piano, a random xylophone, and a few other random sounds until about three and a half minutes in and the song breaks with a sleazy, awkward changeup. It almost feels like the break in an early nineties new jack swing song; if you replace "woman" with "girl," it would be unmistakable. The music suddenly takes a pit stop, and the vocalist takes over in a smooth voice: "Girl....girl... make ME FEEL. WARM INSIDE." The heightening piano only makes the second half of the song border even more on nauseating.
However, the next track is Heaven's Light, which is Love 2's saving grace. This is an effortlessly beautiful song; the piano flows almost magically, and for maybe the first time on this record, the vocals do not give the notion of being forced. Everything smooths along with such arresting ingenuity that it wouldn't be out of place on Moon Safari. After this, unfortunately, Love 2 delves back into boring, muzak territory.
What makes Air's 2009 effort so frustrating is that such talent is still shown, just inconsistently. One can't help but think: This is just plain background music! Air is capable of far better than this! And then sets in the very unsettling thought... maybe it's just that they were capable of better.