20 Years Ago, One Album Became The Chill Soundtrack For A Generation
Why Air’s Talkie Walkie is more than that one Lost in Translation song.
One of the funniest things about the album Talkie Walkie is that it turns out, the two guys in the band Air — Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel — were not trying to be funny with that title. Translated from French, a “walkie walkie” is a “talkie walkie.” Yes, it scans as a kind of simple play-on-words for native English speakers, but it’s more like a case of something being lost in translation and then just left that way on purpose because it’s cool. This idea gets stranger when you consider that the most famous track from Air’s 2004 album Talkie Walkie, was made big because it was in a film called Lost in Translation in 2003.
By January 26, 2004, Air released Talkie Walkie, their third studio album ever, and among the saw-Lost-in-Translation-on-opening-night-crowd, the album was an instant hit. Among people who didn’t pay attention to French electronic music, Talkie Walkie may not have existed. Accept, of course, it did. Even if you didn’t have this album in 2004, it was everywhere you went, in the background of every party where people were actually trying to curate an iPod playlist because Pandora mercifully hadn’t been invented yet. Have you seen the tragically underrated 2015 Noah Baumbach film While We’re Young? There’s a scene in that movie where a guru puts Vangelis’s score for Blade Runner on to get people to chill out. That’s what Talkie Walkie is; it’s a pop culture chill-out-music for people who want to like dance-y French pop, but can’t for some reason.
All of this is a compliment by the way. Today, if you listen to Talkie Walkie, and you’re somehow unfamiliar, you might mistake tracks like “Alpha Beta Gaga,” for something from the Thievery Corporation. But while you can imagine Thievery Corporation as the soundtrack to a heist movie, Air is the kind of pop group that shows up in films by Sofia Coppola, or, equally famously, in shows like Veronica Mars.
The elephant in the room for Talkie Walkie is actually those two famous tracks — the Veronica Mars one “Run” and the Lost in Translation one, “Alone in Kyoto.” These are the Air songs that you’ve heard without knowing you like Air. Even if you were a space alien who had never seen a movie before, you’d be forced to call these two songs cinematic, because there’s really no other word for it. In 2004, Rob Sheffield put it best when he wrote for Rolling Stone that Air makes “moody soundtrack music for imaginary films.”
No greater description of this album exists, so there’s really no use trying to have a new insight, twenty years later. This real question is, will you enjoy listen to the less-famous Talkie Walkie songs now, twenty years later? Even if you never read that review from Sheffield in 2004, you probably already agreed with the sentiment, constantly imagining various moments in your life as scenes in a certain kind of moody indie movie. But, “Run” and “Alone in Kyoto” have already been taken by actual fictional characters. Are there Air songs left on Talkie Walkie that can become part of the movie of your life, today, two decades later?
I think the answer is yes. “Biological” is incredible in that it's haunting but infused with a perfect sort of swagger. Meanwhile, “Universal Traveler,” feels like the kind of music one would compose for James Bond if he were going to the grocery store. So yes, Talkie Walkie holds up, but, because so many pop pseudo-non-soundtracks like this have crowded your brain since then, getting back into this album today will require one crucial skill: patience. In 2004, we weren’t on our phones constantly, and could, in fact, sit through some of these more contemplative songs without skipping to our favorite song. And if you revisit Talkie Walkie in 2024, what you may find, is that there are songs on this album that you don’t remember at all, because you were too busy skipping to “Alone in Kyoto” and imagining yourself as Bill Murray.
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