A greatest hits record has a way of highlighting just what a band does best, and where their deficiencies lie. Some of them draw attention to a groups relative lack of actual good songs. Some of them highlight how great a band can sound without the filler found on so many albums. Some, like Twentyyears, feel like a flawed exercise in of themselves, placing a group’s best songs in an unflattering context.
Air have been one of the defining groups of downtempo and ambient electronica for over twenty years, and this album gathers tracks from all of them onto one 17 track disc, and then adds a second, 14 track disc of b-sides and “rarities”. The outsized length is the most immediate warning sign that the compilation may not be well thought through. It’s telling that all bar one of Air’s albums don’t stretch much past the 40 minute mark, as their distinctly subdued style doesn’t lend itself well to indulgence. Downtempo is inherently designed to be relaxing, but over 31 tracks it has a sedative effect, and the second disc is particularly challenging to get through.
Although there’s too many of them, the individual tracks brought together for the release are outstanding. La femme d’argent, the first track from the group’s first album shows exactly what the duo does well. The Pink Floyd-Indebted bass immediately sticks out, grounding the track in something funky, whilst the whooshes and glitzy keyboards create a smooth, enveloping soundscape. It’s an easy sound to get lost in, and the track remains engaging for its 7 minute runtime.
Tracks from later in the group’s history, such as Once Upon A Time show that the band hasn’t actually evolved very much over the course of their career, with the rolling piano and synth bleeps feeling of a piece with the earlier tracks. However, this only reinforces the feeling of malaise that sets in as the album progresses. The album lacks the dynamism that a proper album cycle brings, and doesn’t showcase Air in the way they deserve.