If rock albums received ratings like movies do, Phantom Planet's last album The Guest would have been given an overwhelming "G," with the exception of "Turn smile shift repeat." This track would be rated PG for it's careful implication of actual depression, given that lead singer/songwriter Jason Schwartzman even knows what that is.
From beginning to end, The Guest is a happy-go-lucky collection of cheesy rock anthems and no brainer lyrics that somehow come off as extremely intelligent songs. The album's first track, "California," was used for the hit series "The OC." The success of the show mirrored Phantom Planet's album sales, and made their follow-up a highly anticipated one.
Somewhere between there and here, Phantom Planet lost their picture perfect Gap image, and traded it in for a dirty vintage look that isn't very subtle. Apparently, the band locked themselves in a room for a year, listened to only The White Stripes and The Strokes until their style had done a complete 180. They then proceeded to record their new self titled album.
From a fan's standpoint, it's obvious how this record would disappoint and aggravate. Through the distorted four note bass lines, and the "scream through a megaphone" vocals, you can barely distinguish that this is the same band that sang gems like "Lonely Day" and "Anthem." Shwartzman's vocal style has changed along with everything else, and Phantom Planet seems nowhere to be found.
The sad truth is, that although the songs are good, it mostly sounds like recycled Strokes riffs. Even from the view of a complete outsider, the album seems like a failed attempt to join a league that they weren't ever meant to play in. After a few listens, however, it's hard to deny that no matter what genre this band goes for, they can get a song stuck in your head.
The late 70's punk movement is not lost on Phantom Planet, contrary to popular belief. Tracks like "Badd Business" and "Big Brat," would leave little room for criticism if any other band had recorded them. Catchy Clashy (no pun intended) riffs and messy distorted vocals come together surprisingly well for a band that once sang "If I had one ray of sunlight to hold in my hand/maybe we would be happy again."
One track that stands miles apart from the rest is "You're Not Welcome Here." A loud pounding of one note makes up the verses, and a very White Album inspired creepiness brings life to it. A Radiohead guitar solo explodes at the end, and an abrupt ending actually works for the first time on the album.
Phantom Planet also discovered the drum machine, which they use as the intro to "Knowitall," which could easily find a home on an old Cure album. It's probably also safe to guess that they've been listening to a lot of Hot Hot Heat and other "sub pop" garage rock novelties. "After Hours" could possibly be The Strokes. Maybe it was an accident?
The style of the album is at least consistent. The melodies are extremely catchy, and the riffs are good rock of the basic kind. However, if you're expecting anything remotely close to The Guest, don't look for it here. If you enjoy a good raggedy garage rock album from a band in their "rebellious" stage, Phantom Planet's self titled should hit the spot.
Release date: July 28, 1998
Rating: 6.0 / 10
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