Air - Moon Safari - Review
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critics' view

There are a few albums in this world whose currency has become so devalued by repeated plays that they almost cease to exist. This reviewer hasn't really heard Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper's or OK Computer for years. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, just nonchalance. And so it is with Air's Moon Safari.

Not only was it used as the background music for every lifestyle programme ever made in 1998 (and 1999, 2000, 2001…), but it sold in squillions, meaning that there's barely a music fan over 25 who doesn't own it or know every note. Of course, there's a reason for its ubiquity. It's great, and now in a sparkling, expanded version, 10 years on maybe we can listen properly again.

What Air achieved may seem simple now, but at the time was deceptively clever. In true Gallic fashion they melded cheese with cool, making the two indistinguishable. The bubbling synths, lush strings and funky loungecore Fender Rhodes: all were signifiers for the contemporary trend for reclaiming the easy listening schlock of the early 70s. But somehow Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel created the perfect blend for post-clubbing languor.

It's not just one great fondue though. Before the rise of the Guilty Pleasures franchise, these French kids were incorporating the the best of The Beach Boys and ELO, often on one track (Remember). Vocoders (Kelly Watch the Stars), doomy synth pads (Sexy Boy) and rippling acoustic guitars were all used, ironically or not. And when guest vocalist Beth Hirsch sang on All I Need, the tunes could almost break your stimulant-weary heart.

Eventually one senses that Moon Safari became the band's albatross. In later years even the writers felt the need to turn what would become to be known as a classic 'chillout' album into pummellingly loud concert numbers, just to get something new out of them. But at its heart this is a wonderfully pretty album, and as a precursor to the likes of Lemon Jelly and their ilk it remains a landmark.

It's up to you, the horizontal listener, as to whether you can still really hear it. Let's hope so…

Chris Jones
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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