Follow-up proper to Moon Safari features Beck on two tracks
AIR TOOK US by surprise with Moon Safari. They came out of nowhere, and that helped them be received as post-mod heroes of electronic pop collage (pollage?) rather than ordinary experimenters who used the humorous past to make a quite nice listening experience that was essentially 78 per cent easy, 13 per cent uneasy and nine per cent approximately original. For newcomers to a world of music edging towards the strangely beguiling, Air were a blast of hot and cool. They were fresh Air. To, er, oldcomers, Air were quite cute compilers of familiar atmosphere. Recycled Air. Moon Safari was a soundtrack to something you couldn’t quite put your finger on, and therefore the music seemed something you couldn’t quite put your finger on, rather than just another neat presentation of sampling cunning, obsessive musical knowledge, foreign wit and electronic wonkiness. The Virgin Suicides soundtrack was less of a surprise, and therefore, unsurprisingly, not as surprising.
So Air are now no surprise, and 10,000 Hz Legend is not a surprise, to the extent that we can now 93 per cent conclude that they are not actually satirising MOR music, they just are MOR. Post-mod MOR, maybe, but possibly nothing more MOR than post-mod MOR. Nothing wrong with that, depending on your point of view.
To be scientific about it, they are 68 per cent MOR, 13 per cent AOR, and 19 per cent something else with a limp, or camp, twist that might once upon a time have been called groovy. The music is no surprise, it just is clever pastiche pop (popiche?), electro pop with a funny turn, laced with that slightly detached quality foreign ads for toothpaste have, where reality seems slightly strained, or a bit bent, and out of kilter. It’s 34 per cent quite nice, 34 per cent smart, seven per cent dopey, 13 per cent better than the sum of its parts, and 11 per cent less than the sum of its parts. This leaves one per cent that might be exquisite, or just an overall air of insouciance that might be exquisite depending on your mood cycle. It’s this one per cent where their perceived genius lies, and gives us titles such as ‘Electronic Performers’, ‘Radio #1’, ‘People in The City’ and ‘Don’t Be Light’, which sound 94 per cent as you would imagine, which is six per cent ironic, and 94 per cent helplessly sincere. Titles such as ‘Sex Born Poison’ and ‘Wonder Milky Bitch’, which fall asleep in the middle of the road and dream of another green world, could well keep you guessing, or give away the game. The game being 50 per cent fun and 50 per cent games, the fun being 50 per cent dark and 50 per cent light, the games being 50 per cent academic and 50 per cent silly.
The best pastiche, one that pastes Beck into the Air scrapbook with an air of belief, is ‘The Vagabond’, which actually features Beck. I can’t yet work out if this is a bonus or a let down. It sounds 100 per cent as you would imagine. Elsewhere, pastiches pull apart and put back together, with a few pieces missing and one or two added, a musical world where nothing ever happened apart from The Beatles, Buggies, Kraftwerk, ELO, Return To Forever, Felt, Jobriath and, if I’m not mistaken, some suave hybrid of Sacha Distel and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sometimes it can seem like a canned combination of Can and Chicory Tip, but not as astonishing.
Another part of their one per cent genius — and Air’s air of genius is not to be sniffed at — is the fact that they manage to make this potentially epic sounding mix utterly unepic. As light as a slice of Nimble. Without the air of surprise, this might make things seem pretty tame, or at best merely pretty. It might make you want to fall asleep now and then and tangerine dream of doing something interesting with your time.
For me, without the surprise, they seem less cool, less hot, but not yet completely cold. Sort of lukewarm.
© Paul Morley, Uncut, June 2001