Phantom Planet: “Raise the Dead”

Just in case the album’s title doesn’t make it pretty clear that Phantom Planet’s latest album has some spiritual concerns, the press material accompanying Raise the Dead declares that the band’s latest record was inspired by frontman Alex Greenwald’s run-in with a cult. At least a couple of songs on the album deal directly with the experience, and they set the tone for the whole album, which is, not surprisingly, rather ominous, even creepy, sometimes bordering on unsettling. It never quite reaches that point, however, because as disturbed as Greenwald may have been by his experience, he and his band are determined not to let it ruin their good time, rocking harder and with more reckless abandon than on any of their previous albums.

And indeed, though Phantom Planet has always been a pop band, Raise the Dead is pure rock and roll, in spirit if not always in sound. Just about every track is a barn-burner, and even the slower numbers, like “Quarantined,” have a certain sense of danger to them. The band even calls to mind Arcade Fire on the title song, a doozy of a tune that builds and builds into a furious outpouring of emotion. But as dark as their subject matter and as unhinged as their performances may be, the band hasn’t lost its roots; they prove their pop skills to be as sharp as ever with hooky numbers like “Dropped” and “Do the Panic,” and they maintain their sense of humor, lightening the mood with horns, a sinister children’s choir, and some funny lyrics. And that’s the most remarkable thing about Raise the Dead: It’s a genuinely creepy and dark record in many respects, but it’s also a blast to listen to, and its darkness never overpowers the band’s energetic good nature and cheery disposition. Of course, those looking for great insight into matters spiritual or otherwise should look elsewhere-though it’s cool to hear a band addressing the occult, songs like “Leader” don’t really offer much insight, nor do mildly clever but never profound relationship songs like “Dropped”-but then again, listeners looking to have their intellects stimulated probably aren’t looking to Phantom Planet in the first place. The pleasure of this record is simply rocking out and singing along, and, as such, it’s a very enjoyable album that’s worth a listen from fans old and new.

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