Maybe Phantom Planet was just biding its time, waiting to release its fourth album, Raise the Dead, until after “The OC” finally got kicked off the air and Seth Cohen faded from pop culture ubiquity. It’s now been four years since the L.A. quartet delivered its ambitious, self-titled third release, an experimental, lyrically darker, rawer affair that was successful at garnering a bit of indie-rock cred (something of an oxymoron) if not at placating the fickle, “California”-loving 14-year-old girl crowd that had embraced The Guest and its clean, sunny, thoroughly Californian brand of pop rock. Phantom Planet, their third album, failed to deliver financially and got the band dropped from Epic.
The light and nimble Raise the Dead, long-delayed by the band’s shifting lineup (including the loss of founding members Jason Schwartzman and Jacques Brautbar) and search for a new label, continues in the same grittier, more-rocking vein of its predecessor, though this time around, Greenwald’s lyrical melancholy and brooding are downplayed in favor of a more danceable sound… and lyrics that largely revolve around a fictional, unnamed religious cult supposedly inspired by figures like Charles Manson and David Koresh (all in good fun).
Though Phantom Planet has been criticized for changing up its sound a bit too fluidly from album to album, its ability to smoothly transition from soft, delicate vocals to blistering howls across the space of a dozen songs without sounding scattered is one of the Raise the Dead’s biggest assets, a feat the band hadn’t quite managed up to this point. From the sweeping, anthemic “Raise the Dead” to the melancholic, acoustic “Leave Yourself for Somebody Else,” the band neatly ties together its diverse range of influences, incorporating everything from Big Star to the Zombies to U2.
The album’s standout track is a reworked version of “Do the Panic,” a completely blissed-out song that begins with an infectiously retro “ba ba ba / ba ba sha doo be do be” intro and crescendos into a chorus that is practically an invitation to the listener to sing along and dance without abandon: “Come on, come on / It’s time to lose control.” And it’s true: Only the dead or the deaf could resist getting up and moving to one of the most perfect pop songs released so far this year.
It’s by no means a monumental or flawless record (the album does get bogged-down by a number of adequate but ultimately forgettable tracks that appear in its middle), but it should at least make some headway at getting those opening chords of “California” dislodged from your mind.
*** and 1/2 stars