Phantom Planet Is Missing
The Guest is T.J. Simon's #11 album for 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2002, Volume 9, #4
Written by T.J. Simon
Remember that hip, quirky Bill Murray movie from a few years ago called Rushmore? Remember the funny kid in that movie whose character was named Max Fischer? Well, the actor who played that funny kid is Jason Schwartzman (son of Talia Shire and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola), and he’s in a band called Phantom Planet. And, dig this, the band is really good.
As a general rule, listeners should run the other way when they hear about movie stars fronting rock bands. Astoundingly, ego-tripsters Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, and Bruce Willis all sold out major rock venues in Chicago within the past year. Who goes to these concerts? Presumably it is the same pack of brainless consumers who attend boat and RV shows in order to meet the cast of All My Children.
That said, consider some mitigating factors in this particular case. First of all, Schwartzman is merely the drummer for the group, and Phantom Planet isn’t Buddy Rich and His Band, The Max Weinberg Seven, or any other group where the drummer plays a prominent role. Second, to put it kindly, Schwartzman probably has the same problems getting a dinner reservation that you and I do; that is, he doesn’t yet command the kind of star power that attracts the boat and RV show crowd.
Instead, Phantom Planet is a hook-heavy pop group fronted by lead singer and guitarist Alex Greenwald and featuring guitarist Jacques Brautbar and bassist Sam Farrar. The band is rounded out by guitarist Darren Robinson and, as noted, Jason Schwartzman on drums. Its music is heavily influenced by the sun-drenched harmonies of The Byrds and The Beach Boys and the intelligent, adult composition style of The Beatles and Elvis Costello.
The band’s 1998 album, Phantom Planet Is Missing, is a respectable, if unremarkable debut that starts strong and includes catchy songs in the tradition of Matthew Sweet and Weezer (most notably I Was Better Off and Recently Distressed). The best moments showcase guest keyboardist Patrick Warren whose previous work includes recording with Michael Penn. Unfortunately, the disc runs out of steam during its second half, degenerating into the type of bland alternative rock (Lisa and Rest Easy) that is difficult to discern from the tripe on modern alterna-teen radio.
Phantom Planet’s second outing The Guest is the first great pop album of 2002. The centerpiece of the disc is also my personal favorite song of the year: the soaring radio hit California, which, not coincidentally, was also featured on the Orange County movie soundtrack. Greenwald’s vocals are so amazing on this cut that a skeptic might suggest that there was some studio tweaking involved by co-producers Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos) and Tchad Blake (BoDeans, Bangles, Los Lobos). The rest of the disc is full of well-written pop numbers such as the grandiose Anthem and the world-weary Turn Smile Shift Repeat that you’ll be humming them hours after the playing time elapses.
Chicago Sun Times movie critic Roger Ebert described Schwartzman’s new movie Slackers as "rotten" and having a "poverty of imagination" while granting it a rarely-seen zero stars. The music of Schwartzman’s band, on the other hand, is sweet, tuneful, imaginative, and worth more stars then most film celebrity rockers will ever see.
Phantom Planet Is Missing —
The Guest — ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box