Phantom Planet Phantom Planet

[Epic; 2004]

Styles: power-pop, garage rock
Others: Sloan, The Strokes, Fountains of Wayne

When I tell people that my introductions to the band Phantom Planet and the movie Rushmore were exclusive of each other, yet both in 1999, I'm usually met with looks of skepticism. Jason Schwartzman is, after all, the drummer in the band and the star of the movie, and so being a fan of one must always logically follow from the other. This is one of today's most celebrated actor-in-a-band situations. But oh, it must be said: not anymore! Following the recording of Phantom Planet, Mr. Schwartzman departed the band, to be replaced by the unfamiliar Jeff Conrad.

Rumors circulated following this self-titled album's release. Long-time Phantom Planet fans cried foul, a friend of mine wondering why her beloved band was "trying to be the Strokes." Trepidation overwhelmed me as I took my first listen, wondering what the fuss was for. Phantom Planet was, at worst, a solid album. However, this was definitely a different band than I was used to. The Phantom Planet boys of ...Is Missing and The Guest wrote real choruses, whether they be modest or hugely anthemic. Their choruses repeated; their choruses even started songs. Their choruses existed. The reinvented Phantom Planet writes catchy songs that simply lack choruses. The old Phantom Planet had a disagreement with you, sulked away, and wrote a song about it. The reinvented Phantom Planet simply sneers at you, intimidating and evading all possibility of things going down. They have better issues to write songs about.

These songs are written with style: with a wink saying, "Come on baby, you know you like us better now." "Before you make it better/ before you make it worse/ first thing's first" intimates Alex Greenwald on "1st Things 1st," a simple rock song that's nothing if not infectious. The frantic "Making a Killing" breaks with the pattern for a real, several line long chorus, a fantastic change of pace from those more mid-tempo surrounding it. The shoegazing "Knowitall" drew raised eyebrows for its "Wave of Mutilation"-soundalike bass, drum-machine opening, and slurred first lyrics. But by the wall-of-sound chorus section, just over a minute in, the extremely melodic bass, guitar, and vocal harmonies had wormed their sneaky ways into my heart, and I found myself repeating the song ad nauseam.

Phantom Planet as a record works at the listener in that manner. After the initial shock of the band's transformation, the album holds few surprises (notably the huge, unsettlingly tense sound of the mid-album "You're Not Welcome Here"). But the songs are better than solid. They're catchier than catchy. These songs are just good. Phantom Planet has succeeded in becoming the quality type of band they evidently wanted to be. Now hopefully they stay that way.

1. The Happy Ending
2. Badd Business
3. Big Brat
4. 1st Things 1st
5. Making a Killing
6. You're Not Welcome Here
7. By the Bed
8. Knowitall
9. Jabberjaw
10. After Hours
11. The Meantime