You’ll notice that any article you read about Phantom Planet begins with a line to the effect of “Phantom Planet features actor Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Slackers) on drums.” It is no accident that most press on this band seems to focus on their ready-made celebrity rather than their music.
Granted, Schwartzman was the band’s drummer before Rushmore and, granted, the band’s sound is a fairly catchy one. There is a reason, however, that Schwartzman became known as an actor before he became known as a musician. Moreover, Phantom Planet’s sound is as shamelessly derivative of classic artists such as Elvis Costello and the Beatles as they are of contemporary artist such as Travis, and the Strokes, both of whom already borrow enough material as it is.
The Guest is the band’s follow-up to 1998’s less than interesting Phantom Planet is Missing, and though it fails to live up to the hype surrounding the band, it does display a great deal of improvement. In addition, the production work of veterans Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake is stellar, and is the reason the tracks sound as good as they do.
The album begins by paying homage to the band’s home state with a well-crafted pop song titled “California.” A sweet piano melody opens the piece, standing out above the guitar accompaniment, and foreshadowing the melody to come from vocalist Alexander Greenwald (whom you may remember seeing in a past Gap commercial). Unfortunately, this track is one of the few noteworthy ones on the album, and it causes most of the album’s remaining tracks to seem disappointing by comparison.
There are still a few good tracks on the album, such as the moody, beat-driven “Turn Smile Shift Repeat,” a welcome break from the upbeat pop rock that makes up the majority of the album.
Nevertheless, The Guest takes so much of its material from established artists that it is distracting. Alexander Greenwald’s voice on “In Our Darkest Hour” sounds so much like that of the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas that it is difficult to pay attention to the song itself.
The final two songs on the album, the overblown “Wishing Well,” and the underblown, two minute finale “Something is Wrong” seem out of place. They are filler, tacked on to the end of an album that was never meant to be listened to in its entirety.
True, Phantom Planet has potential, but if the band members plan on returning to the studio anytime soon they would be well advised to take inspiration from their favorite artists, rather than simply to take their styles.