7 May 2014

Zero 7 - Yeah Ghost

One such album that maybe I shouldn't be looking forward to listening to, as historically I'm kainotophobic, or in plain english I fear change. Ok, I'll cut the crap now, Yeah Ghost is by one of my all time favourite electronica acts, but without the choral talents of Sia Furler and Tina Dico, whom the former has been featured heavily in all the previous three albums. I really hope that a void hasn't suddenly opened up as a consequence. I thought Zero 7's previous record The Garden was a fine offering but my worry is that this could possibly dip from its predecessor's peak. Hopefully not.

The musicians mentioned above are folk/electronica artists with a lot of subtle punch and some untold musical credentials. However, on this album it's a completely new lineup so I'll just run through them. First, there's ESKA (full name Eska Mtungwazi), a Zimbabwean born guitarist/pianist, of whom Jamie Cullum recently lauded, Binki Shapiro, an alternative rock singer of Little Joy, a US/Brazilian act I've not listened to as of the present. Also featured on this is Martha Tilston, another folk artist more noted for her caustic political orientations while we have Rowdy Superstar making a one appearance as well as one of the two production nuclei of Z7 Henry Binns singing on Everything (Zizou's Up).

Things frankly don't really get off the ground as we start with Count Me Out, a brief but forgettable two minute opus, but the ESKA sung Mr. McGee finally gets us underway, although this doesn't hit your ears too subtlety, granted that eventually it does grow on me. There's a bit of a rough hook in the mix right through, it may keep faith to the Electronica idea, but then there's reverse guitars identical to The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows, plus some good chorus harmonies which take a different style in the following track Swing. Miss Shapiro carefully treads through this Suzanne Vega styled song with a few rag tag instruments of harmonica, steel drums and xylophone backing up. Solidly assured and easy going best describes it.

So far, the music's mixing the organic with the the electronic scheme of things, until the percussion takes a slightly more acoustic approach in Everything (Zizou's Up), Mr Binn's tribute to Zinedine Zidane, whoever said that writing football songs about wasn't cool?! It mightn't feature on the next football anthems compilation, but it's one I've listened to many times and I never grow tired of listening to. It doesn't seem to get off the ground but listen to it, and the psychedelia senses infused make it all worthwhile. Next, it's the return of ESKA with Medicine Man, and man, are things getting more oddball, what sounds like a cheap Casio keyboard, everything recorded down to a budget, and I suspect that Binns and colleague Sam Hardaker have either had a few wasted moments or their songwriting ideas involved a trip down to the Radiophonic Workshop. It feels rather poppyish and the metaphoric lyrics are just downright silly.

Now, Ghost sYMbOL (and please don't ask for the reason behind the mixture of small and large cases in the title, I really don't know either) is an stripped-to-the-core spiky keyboard and other gadgetry beats incorporated, occasional singing from Shapiro and perhaps drawing inspiration from Jean Michel Jarre and Japan. ESKA makes her third appearance on Sleeper, it runs on the same theme as the preceding track, again harking back to early electronica days from the said acts and perhaps more ideas drawn from Keith Emerson and his Moog, but for me the lyrics are overtly repetitive and flat. Really doesn't do anything for the eager listener and it's putting a slight dampener on what could be easily go beyond album filler status.

The album takes a bit of an indie turn with the Spiritualized and Symposium inspired two minute opus Solastalgia, and could easily feature as end credits in a Gerry Anderson TV show, while things slow down to an almost dead stop with gentle vibes in The Road. Again, gentle ballads are one thing, but getting the balance right is also important in holding your attention and it's bordering in doing just that. Finally, the percussion laden All Of Us, coupled with male steady chanting coming on at midpoint draws proceedings to another gentle send off, again, not much of a muchness to me.

If Yeah Ghost is ever likened to art, it's guilty of a sameness in the theme the artist sends to the casual observer with every exhibit shown. Even with the extensive personnel change in album number four, Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns haven't really pulled off anywhere near a masterstroke of a musical piece this time. The bulk of their best material is in the first half of Yeah Ghost, plenty of electronic pep and very imaginative in the compositions. The other half is not necessarily flat, but not memorable either and won't stick with me until after at least five listens. For me, it just feels that not too much thought has been put into in the composition on side two. A mighty disappointment that not all that glitters is gold.

6 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best track : Everything (Zizou's Up)

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