Zero 7 - When It Falls
As Zero 7, North London duo Sam Hardaker and Harry Binns formed a popular musical collective on debut Mercury-nominated album Simple Things, an album that existed as the British equivalent of Air’s mighty Moon Safari. At the time, the sun-drenched musical genre, branded ‘chill-out’ by the mainstream aficionados, was on its last legs of the first wave of lounge electronica; Ibiza was starting to lose its popularity as the number one clubbing spot for hedonistic youths, and the many Café-Del-Mar compilations and other clones over-saturated the market. Air pushed themselves as far away from the genre as they could with 10,000Hz Legend, and the public broadened their horizons.
However, at the start of 2004, Air released the brilliant comeback to form which was Talkie Walkie, and the new wave of lounge electronica was signalled primarily by its modern pioneers. Then, Zero 7 release their second album and provoke criticism because it is essentially a retread of the first, even though the market is far hungrier for albums of that particular genre. As it stands their second album, entitled When It Falls, is superior to first album Simple Things. Hardaker and Binns clearly understood what ingredients helped their debut album to sell eight hundred thousand copies around the world and have in turn shaped their second album around this same winning formula. In essence, Zero 7 have wisely retained the services of key vocalists Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Mozez, and have even expanded their lineup to feature a fourth vocalist - Tina Dico.
When It Falls begins generically enough with Warm Sound, a calming, breezy opener in which Mozez lends his soulful vocal. By the time you reach second track Home, which is also the first single release of the album, you are treated to new vocalist Tina Dico’s crisp performance, and instantly you sense that When It Falls works perfectly as a musical-chairs approach to lead singer, with Zero 7 acting as the perfect lounge-backing band. Home is a sunset-evoking cauldron of west-coast soul fused with a slightly eerie-folk tinge. On the surface, the primary colour aesthetic of the song strikes you first, but look deeper and there is a hint of sadness and pain.
At times the music is jazzy and almost futuristic in approach, and at other times the sounds generated are sparse, almost postmodernist in their concoction of blended genres and riffs. Album highlights are Passing By, featuring vocals from Sophie Barker, which is a swirling concoction of polished chill with delicious hooks. Look Up is a mostly instrumental acid-jazz ramble that somehow transforms into a swinging-sixties retrovisit by its conclusion, whereas The Space Between could be an early-seventies Carole King number that ends up sounding like Morcheeba. Penultimate track In Time is a positive-feeling, more up-beat vocal delivery by Sophie Barker that suggests a possible new direction for Hardaker and Binns on their next album.
Yes, Zero 7 are deliberately short of musical innovation, and probably all of the cuts on the album will work their way into one television advertisement or another, and yet it’s hard not to cherish When It Falls. The album consistently generates warmth through its songs to such an extent that you question its chilly March release date as opposed to a more suitable summer assault in the shops. Maybe that’s the point; maybe When It Falls is supposed to help us through the colder months.