Air – Moon Safari Review

Originally Released January 16th, 1998.

It was hard to figure out who was more bored with Britpop by late 1997; the chief protagonists were at loggerheads, with Blur shifting onto a Pavement-shaped course having never really looked comfortable with their rabble-rousing status, whilst the Gallagher kin spatted and stuttered, their contribution Be Here Now by their own later admission a pharmaceutically ruined attempt to have conversations with God.

A duo from Versailles, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicholas Godin were the Gallic ying to our stiff and curled upper lip yang; with a sound that owed its louche grandeur to disco, the eroticism of Serge Gainsbourg and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in equal measure, their music offered something as winningly Europhile as well it was retro-chic.

Moon Safari was a proudly delicate album, full of a playfulness that flew in the face of Britpop’s specificity. Its signature hit Sexy Boy was for instance on one level a swipe at the vacuousness of male models, but the vintage synths, half whispered chanson and use of the previously thought to be antique vocoder gave it a pristine aura of recherche glam few on this side of La Manche could counter.

They weren’t alone of course in using salvaged equipment and being open to the beige charms of the pre-punk seventies, but Moon Safari was full of a guilt-free, positive archivism that was Dunckel and Godin’s biggest gift. On Kelly Watch The Stars they conjured up Earth Wind & Fire’s strutting funk and then pawed at it like clay, removing the sex and leaving the childish wander, whilst opener La Femme D’Argent with its effortless bass and tribal, insouciant yacht rock noodling was a lost spy film soundtrack where the moody, safari-suited villains never spoke about their time in the Legion.

If that was one bygone aspect, the other was a celebration of the Laurel Canyon school of MOR, twisted neatly on All I Need and You Make It Easy, the former’s shape-shifting hybrid of acoustic whimsy and Balearic effects, along with Beth Hirsch’s pristine vocals, creating a folktronica template subsequently bastardised by the chill out movement it helped spawn.

For a record which shamelessly brought back to vogue turtle-necked ephemera, Moon Safari also had a more discernible legacy, ushering in along with Daft Punk’s Homework a new era for a French pop movement perennially in the doldrums. If it was a touch too saccharine at times – as with the beige over indulgence typified by the horns of Ce-matin la – then forgiveness, like the vibe, was easy. After all, we’d reached a new/old sense of enlightenment, one in which post the dirty pigeons of Parklife, music had become a lean back experience once again.