There are times when the world of music is a very fickle place – bands are pushed upon us because they sound like someone else, and then before you know it they’ve already disappeared again. So fifteen years ago, when Zero 7 released their debut album Simple Things, you could probably have been forgiven for thinking they were just imitating Air.
They have, of course, proved to have staying power, but on opening track I Have Seen, the influence – whether intentional or accidental – is very audible. It’s a great song actually, with a vocal quite unlike anything Air had done by this stage (they would have been onto their difficult second album 10,000 Hz Legend by now), but the middle section, three quarters of the way through, could have been lifted directly from Moon Safari.
Sounding a bit like Air is no bad thing, though, and Zero 7 quickly proved their worth, as gentle second track Polaris carries us to a very different place (although it could still comfortably fit on a certain French act’s releases) before the enormous hit single Destiny arrives.
It’s easy to see why this was such a huge hit, with an excellent vocal from Sia, it’s a beautiful uplifting piece, which would fit perfectly at the height of summer. Listening to the album version takes up five and a half minutes of your time, but it’s definitely time well spent.
This is a carefully crafted album, and so it would be unfair to view Give it Away as a filler track, but its function here seems to be to add to the atmosphere and mood, rather than particularly to introduce anything new. It’s still entirely pleasant though.
Simple Things is probably the first song on here to really introduce anything vastly different, with a particularly good vocal from Terry Callier, who had also performed on the opening piece. With a backing track free of most of the analogue warblings of earlier moments, it does stand out somewhat.
The even softer side of Zero 7 continues with Red Dust, before Sia turns up again to deliver a particularly moving vocal on Distractions, and then Sophie Barker also performs well on the lovely In the Waiting Line.
We then get another “filler” piece with Out of Town, but there’s little to dislike on here – a few of the pieces were clearly never going to be singles, but that’s OK. For every Likufanele there’s a This World that grabs you again and reminds you why Zero 7‘s debut is so great. Finally, the delightful End Theme turns up, bringing the release to a close in a very decisive manner.
Simple Things is a solid debut, and I should really apologise for mentioning Air so early in this review, except that I was clearly never going to get away without mentioning them. This album owes a lot to them, but also a lot to its exceptional guest vocalists and the musical genius of the people who crafted it.
You can still find Simple Things from all major retailers.