Apparently The Garden, the exquisite, Grammy-nominated gemcultivated by chill-ectronic duo Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker in 2006, markedthe end of Zero 7 as we know it. The proof’s in the rather drabpudding Yeah Ghost, an inconsistent amalgam of forgettable materialquite unrepresentative of the pair’s abilities.
The two seemed convinced the proverbial well of trip-hopsumptuousness had run dry, given their loss of Sia Furler’scollaboration and distinctive pipes, as well as their assumption thattheir superb catalogue already contained all they had to offer inthe laidback groove department.
Following limited success with musical diversions Kling and IngridEto, they evidently grasped at straws in their attempts to reinventtheir sound. Eventually, they turned an eye to French footballerZinedine Zidane’s fancy footwork (not, sadly, his film 21st CenturyPortrait and Mogwai‘s excellent soundtrack for it), and used his famedturn as inspiration for overcoming their reservations about a newdirection in their sound – namely, the installment of pep.
Two other Gallic notables – specifically, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, best known as Air – would have provided a better template for reinvention,what with the post-modern masterpiece 10,000 Hz Legend serving astheir brilliant departure from their digital Burt Bacharachbeginnings. They’d wanted their tempos”ratcheted right up” for their latest offering. For this, Zidane’s infamous head buttmight rather have inspired them, aggressively pushing themto leave more of an impression on the listener.
Alas, alas for, best intentions aside, Yeah Ghost is the duo’sleast focused and least interesting effort to date. The pace is quickened a bit, but not throughout. And a departure from their accessible, organicmelodies to which the Zero 7 faithful have become accustomed is also a disappointment.
A case in point is the awful lead single Medicine Man, one of fourtracks that feature the adept vocals of newcomer EskaMtungwazi. In spite of her best efforts, the track goes nowhere,plagued throughout by fruitless, synthetic tones and beats that onlyincrease in annoyance as time wears on. If the attainment of the’poor man’s Basement Jaxx‘ label were the goal for post-GardenZero 7, Medicine Man helps them along nicely.
The remaining tracks rarely induce the kind ofindulgent satisfaction that their earlier material frequently did. Swing is The Pageant Of The Bizarre’s plainer,similarly carnivalesque cousin, possessing awkward smatterings ofharmonica and steel drums.
That track, as well as the dreamy yetsterile Pop Art Blue (redeemed only by MarthaTilston‘s lilting, breathy voice) and the tedious, SimpleThings-like throwback track The Road, show Binns and Hardaker, whileunable to truly recapture their past magic, to be unwilling tocompletely commit to upping the pace either.
All the better, actually, as perky selections such as Mr McGee,Everything Up (Zizou) – a direct reference to the aforementionedathlete) – and Sleeper, whilst displaying flashes of genius, ultimatelyshow Zero 7 to be out of their element. They seem more comfortable with andanterhythms, channeling the likes ofDoves in Solastalgia, sporting Radiohead‘s You And WhoseArmy-like vocal processing in Ghost sYMbOL, and Sufjan Stevens‘ vibes during the outro of Swing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scrambling to find The LastBroadcast, Amnesiac and Illinoise for relief.
Hopefully the unfocused songwriting and uneven assortment ofstyles are the transient failings of a band in metamorphosis. But it’sa shame that such issues were not resolvedduring the pair’s experimental, side project phase. Perhaps it’s bestto take solace in the fact that Zero 7 still can and likely willcontinue to surround themselves with superb vocal talent, and continueto be capable of showing, albeit rarely on this release, signs ofbrilliance.
Such signs are there, notably in the album closer All Of Us, orthe beautiful, harmonic breakdown that occurs just past the threeminute mark of Mr McGee. Here’s hoping that thepleasant-at-best Yeah Ghost is but a wispy, passing apparition, andnot a haunting omen for similarly ineffective work in the future.