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Air, "Love 2" (Virgin) [2 OUT OF 4 STARS]

As their protgs in Phoenix take America by storm with a more upbeat, dance-oriented slant on the atmospheric French synth-pop that they pioneered, it would be easy to confine studio wizards Jean-Benot Dunckel and Nicolas Godin to the dustbin of history: “Love 2” is their sixth studio album, and like their other releases, it doesn’t measure up to their finest moment, the 1998 masterpiece “Moon Safari.”

How is this Air album different from all the others? Well, it’s the first the duo has produced on its own at its new studio, Atlas, and the first to feature a flesh and blood drummer, Joey Waronker. But that’s it. Otherwise, we have the usual trance/sleep-inducing grooves, the familiar backgrounds of retro/futuristic analog synthesizer drones, washes and bleeps and echo-laden guitars, and those oh-so-French Serge Gainsbourg-on-‘ludes spoken-sung vocals. And it’s all beginning to sound pretty tired.

Yet while there are some ultra-disposable toss-offs here–chief among them the gently jaunty but exceedingly slight “Love,” with lyrics that feature nothing but that word repeated again and again until you start to hate it–there are just enough strong tunes to reward fans’ loyalty, including the instrumentals “Eat My Beat” and “Tropical Disease.” These are enough to save Air from the accusation that it’s run out of steam, but they do suggest the group should perhaps confine itself in the future to soundtracks such as the one it crafted for “The Virgin Suicides” in 2000.