Too much here is unchallenging and stuck in the late 90s.
Chris Jones 2009-09-09
Zero 7's fourth album, despite containing a fair smattering of Ovaltine for the ears, marks a distinct change. Yeah Ghost is a schizophrenic offering that draws heavily on pop and rhythm, stuffed with all the right shapes but crucially lacking the vision that held Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker's post-clubbing world together back in the day.
As a mission statement, second track Mr Mcgee is pretty startling: it comes across more like a Basement Jaxx stomper, with vocalist Eska Mtungwazi contributing to its infectious call-and-response structure. But then it's on to the drifting, lilting Swing, with multi-tracked harmonies that wouldn't seem out of place on an early Air track. Having two disparate styles roughly placed together, though, signals a crisis of identity rather than a master plan.
The duo's sound engineer roots come through on their sonically adventurous moments. There's plenty here to get smokers frowning, such as instrumental tidbits Count Me Out and Solastalgia, where subdued electronica tastefully entices. The aural trickery of Ghost sYMbOl, meanwhile, will have you staring round the room wondering if that's your mobile going off; but its pitch-shifted vocals are a direct lift from the less-comforting work of superior Swedish pair The Knife.
Pop Art Blue wins the vocal prize with Martha Tilston's folky whisper, though you can't help yearning for the lost voice of longtime collaborator Sia Furler. This is especially the case when Binns takes to the microphone for the first time on Zinedine Zidane homage, Everything Up (Zizou). It takes style to deliver lines like: “Murakami would have told you so / If you catch him will you let me know? / Bobbing apples in the studio / Aikido, Aikido-si-do.” Oh dear…
The evident stylistic disparity is disappointing because variety is obviously well within the boys’ grasp. Sleeper is a genuinely unsettling and vibrant slice of M.I.A.-like electro insanity, while the closing All Of Us takes its own sweet time to build from tribal bump to blissful comedown anthem, and is all the better for it.
But too much here is either unchallenging and stuck in the late 90s, or too jarring to allow the album to flow. Maybe Zero 7’s time has truly passed.