Music Review: Phantom Planet's Raise the Dead

by Justin Wilder
Special to iVoryTowerz

Vocalist Alex Greenwald of Southern California's Phantom Planet insists in an interview in Billboard that even though the band was dropped by its label Epic, and a few band members left over the years, the group never really considered breaking up. Maybe they should have just cut their losses and quit before releasing their newest record, Raise the Dead.

No matter what the members of Phantom Planet do with the rest of their musical careers, they will most likely be labeled as the dudes who penned the anthemic theme song for The OC, "California." Either that or that actor Jason Schwartzman once was their drummer. In any case, Phantom Planet's, Raise the Dead has neither Jason Schwartzman or a single that comes close to the guilty pleasure that was "California."

Inspired by cult leaders such as Charles Manson, Jim Jones and David Koresh, Raise the Dead was written and recorded over an eighteen month period, beginning in late 2006. This inspiration is evident in the lyrics, more than the cheap Beatles soundscape spit out by the foursome. On the track "Confess," vocalist Greenwald yells "Do you have something to confess?" over and over again as swirls of orchestration fill the air. The Beatles' influences could come from their Fueled By Ramen labelmates Panic At The Disco, which recently released Pretty. Odd. The thievery on Raise the Dead is much more subdued than that release but much less effective.

There are a few catchy tracks on the disc.

The lead single, "Do The Panic" has ba-ba sha-doobadoo's and all sorts of Pro Tools audio tricks that create the perfect chart topping single. The last track on the record, "I Don't Mind" is a pretty pleasing acoustic track until it fades out into random, meaningless noise a la the Wilco sonic masterpiece "Less Than You Think." The only difference being that Wilco utilizes such noisy experimentation effectively.

I feel like that is a theme throughout this album. There are a few different influences and sounds that are impacting the grand experiment that Greenwald sees as Phantom Planet and he doesn't really understand how to use them.

(Promotional photo of Phantom Planet from Fueled by Ramen Records. The band plays Tulsa, OK tonight, the latest stop on their tour of the U.S. To see Phantom Planet play "Do the Panic" from Raise the Dead on Jimmy Kimmel Live please check below.)

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Philip said...

I'd bet you ten dollars that you have little to no experience as a songwriter. But that's a side note. I'm writing because your review is full of factual errors.

First of all, Greenwald doesn't say "Do you have something to confess?" over and over again. He says it once each chorus.

Secondly, the sounds patched onto the end of "I Don't Mind" have absolutely nothing to do with Wilco. A Ghost is Born is an incredible album, but it isn't the only album ever made. The sounds are just a little addendum to a song that would otherwise end the album too abruptly. I'm not saying that's the best artistic decision, but your review paints it as a major aspect of Raise the Dead, which it most certainly is not.

Thirdly, this is probably the most single-heavy album Phantom Planet has ever recorded. At least half of this could have serious radioplay--"Do the Panic," "Leader," an edited "Geronimo," "Leave Yourself for Somebody Else," and "Dropped" are all single-worthy. That isn't a good thing, again. I think the self titled made a better, more cohesive artistic statement. But you're still wrong.

Fourthly, if you (and apparently every other reviewer on the planet) would have spent a little more time listening to this, you'd know that Greenwald has totally overstated this album as a cult-based concept record. Cults are only used a few times as a metaphor for a relationship that fails because of the tragically private nature of love.

My final input on this--great album, incredibly well-written songs, maybe too much influence from the Beatles in some of the guitar work. There's not a lot new going on here, but what is going on is incredibly catchy, astoundingly well-written, and has little to do with what you just wrote.

Justin said...

Thanks for you feedback despite how incredibly negative it is. It is good that people are reading what we post. I will try and respond to some of your criticisms.

I guess I thought it just seemed more than once a chorus because he yells the choruses a few times back to back and what not. Thats what it felt like anyway. It just kind of bored me.

The sonic aspect to I Don't Mind doesn't have any direct connection to Wilco, sure, but it felt similar. No matter what they were trying to do with the record at this point, they failed. In my HUMBLE opinion.

I agree with your third point mostly because I agree that it isn't always a great thing when all you have are radio singles. I really don't think that these are strong enough pop songs though so I stick with that "fact". None of these are really facts, its more of just opinions and what I've read Alex Greenwald say about the record and his influences. I was just going by what he said and what I heard. I guess every other reviewer on the Planet went by what he said.

If he didn't want people to think of this record as a Jim Jones/David Koresh record than he shouldn't have said how they influenced the album. Sure he may use the cult references as a metaphor for failed relationships but there is still the feeling of doom and what not in the lyrics and the music that warrants this reaction by reviewers.

Thats about it. Once again thanks for your comment. I hope that despite my review having numerous "factual" errors you still come back to ivorytowerz for all of your music review, political, and sports blogging needs!

You owe me ten dollars.

stephen triggiligrieleer said...

Do the panic was originally written by jason schwartzman and released on disc 2 of the limited edition first printing of The Guest. (Not the piece of shit rerelease.)

the lyrics were changed (and made worse) for this album. Its a shame to see them bring such an amazing song down a few pegs.

Pro tools is an amazing application. Only people who worry about having hipster cred would bash it, its no different than your tascam and garageband rig.

You both owe me ten dollars

Rick Rockwell said...

Just to help arbitrate this bet, Justin Wilder is a guitarist and songwriter, along with being our guest music reviewer. We have played some of Justin’s compositions on the iVoryTowerz podcast in the past. You can go here and here to check out a few samples.

As Justin notes, the facts of this review are correct. What is really being assailed here is opinion.

I have not heard the entire release, so I cannot judge. However, “Do the Panic,” which is in this post for all to hear, is definitely second-rate, if that. And if that is an example of what is played on the radio today as a single, then no wonder rock radio is in steep decline.

And I say this as someone who has been reviewing music for a very long time.

As for Pro Tools, as a podcast and radio producer, I have enjoyed using it and it is a great audio platform. However, these days, I use a variety of other programs, for a variety of reasons. Pro Tools is a very good program, but I think that comment wasn't so much to put it down as to put down musicians who rely too much on such effects.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, Phantom Planet are all very talented musicians. If you had ever seen them live, you'd know that. I just can't get why people decide to bash them because none of their songs sound like "California" anymore. The album is amazing and when you have followed its progress for as long as I have, have heard the songs grow and evolve, and how much and how hard these guys work to make music, it would mean that much more to you too. No disrespect to any of you guys. That's not what this is about. I'm just sick and tired of people giving Phantom Planet crap because they experiment with sound and songwriting. Everyone has influences. It's impossible not to, and only a little less possible to have them show in your work. It's not a bad thing, necessarily. Phantom Planet have lyrics that can be interpreted many ways, and Alex Greenwald is a very well educated and charismatic singer/songwriter. Well, he even admitted that they would only be using the cult-concept album very loosely. Just stop with the bashing. It's nonsense. Some people think that maybe they were influenced by their new labelmates, but a lot of these songs were witten a long time ago.

Nate said...

California was an ALRIGHT song that everyone compares them to. In every interview i have read people say things like, "it doesn't compare with California." This album is amazing! They just got with the label a few months ago. How would they be influenced by their label mates? WHY would they be influenced by their label mates? Panic!, Cobra Starship, Motioncity? Those bands are horrible with horrible song writers.

Rick Rockwell said...

To Nate, and some of the other relatively anonymous commentators here: what exactly makes this second-rate derivative band so "amazing?" Can some of the rather touchy fans of Phantom Planet (or are they p.r. reps?) provide us with some audio or video links to show us what makes this band more than hype?

The clip we have here shows "Do the Panic" is lame. There are YouTube clips that give us some inkling about "Leader" and "Dropped," but what is available on YouTube from Fueled by Ramen (at least so far) doesn't give us enough to make a fair judgment. (And in that case, I'm going with what Justin Wilder wrote originally, because his reviewing skills have proved correct many times before.)

Some of us would love to be amazed, because too often such bands truly are a big disappointment.

Anonymous said...

I would disqualify myself due to age, but I watched the video on the blog and wow.... these guys are beyond lame. I lost my appetite watching that. To quote Chevy Chase... it's not..............good.

Anonymous said...

I have been a fan of Phantom Planet for some time and I believe they are one of the best current rock bands out right now. I have been to three of their live performances in the last 5 years and they are the best live band I have seen(I've seen Sting, Green Day, the Foo fighters, Weezer, and countless lesser known bands). If you want proof of how good Phantom Planet is see if you can get your hands on their DVD from 2004 called Chicago, Chicagogoing, Chicagogone. It will change your mind. Also, did you listen to such songs as Demon Daughters.. this is a very diverse album and they have been working on these songs for four years, they are not influenced by the other feuled by ramen artists. I do not listen to popular radio and am disgusted by Phantom Planets "label mates" and don't feel like they resemble any of them at all. Get a copy of that dvd and get educated on this band's development and then make an informed descision on them.

Rick Rockwell said...

So is this more hype or a reputable suggestion? Hard to tell from anonymous sources, and until we can check out the DVD as recommended, no way to know for sure.

(Or as noted we can just take the reliable Justin at his word.)

However, how are we to explain Phantom Planet's performance on Kimmel? Did they merely have an off night?

eric said...

First off, i wouldn't say they weren't totally inspired by the beatles but what pop-rock band isn't to some slight degree? Second, P!ATD recorded a beatles homage that was VERY underwhelming, i don't understand why everyone wants to blow them for changing a little bit, phantom planet changes every album which leads to my third point, that the lyrics and music are inspired by the cult and were written WAY before P!ATD who fell apart in their first attempt at a concept album. What i'm trying to say is that the bands shouldn't be compared and Raise The Dead can stand alone as another finely crafted album by phantom planet.

Chance said...

I would like to say that, although yes they have one song that was a hit once, that isn't necessarily the point of good music as they pointed out in an interview. They didn't know California would be a hit and they don't want to recreate that. Those are Alex's (interpreted) words.

The point of the "do you have something to confess?" over and over again is for the emotion. The song (Alex says) is about calling someone and having no idea what's goin on on the other end, so, it would seem fitting when most people can relate to being torn apart by what they don't know. That could be me.

I was wondering what "perfect chart topping single" tricks are used.

And furthermore, at least they don't resort to editing a whole song because the performances are shitty during recording.

The performance on Kimmel, I thought, was not amazing, but good, considering that they can't add the studio touches to it. And I would also mention Kimmel doesn't exactly have the greatest sound quality. But, if you doubt their live performances, and don't want to buy a dvd, heres an older song, one of my favorites, that i feel shows high quality performance, and linked with it, is lonely day, in which they get the entire crowd to sing some backing vocals.
(I'm also wondering what you look for in live performance? perfection or energy? I believe they focus more on energy which could tip it)

I Don't Mind's ending, is not an audio masterpeice, but I would have to say that I have heard countless records with experimental endings, so to say that Wilco is the go-to band, well, they do "noise" very well, but, after all, it's just noise at the end of a song, not intended to be the focus of an album but rather an experiment to listen to.

Oh and the 60's guitar influences, I would think you have to commend them for doing something other than distorted power chords to get energy across.

Yes I'm a little biased but I feel this album has been reviewed by a bias toward not liking it.

Rick Rockwell said...

Justin no longer blogs here, so you get the penultimate comment.

As for the performance on Kimmel it sounds sloppy and the band seems flat in the energy category. But to each their own. (For those with a further interest, please follow the other URLs.) I would not score them high in either category.

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