Daft Punk may have been the French house duo of the late 1990s, but Air were something special. Whilst ‘Da Funk’ was tearing up MTV and entering the heart of youth culture, Nicholas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel appealed to a slightly older crowd. Their music was peculiar, sophisticate. They were auteurs – if Daft Punk were Chris & Jon Nolan then Air were the Coen brothers.
As Moon Safari turns twenty today, we look back on their fantastic debut.
Timing is everything in music; sometimes great projects are forgotten because of what was happening around them. In 1998 the general public were exhausted by the increasingly conservative and directionless path of Britpop. If ever an album of flowery, dorky French electronica was going to break through in the UK – it was right now.
The sound of rain and gently tapped bongos open the album, a surprising choice for a surreal album. Opener ‘La Femme D’Argent’ is a sultry lounge groove, powered by an impeccably smooth bassline. A good ease-in for British listeners who still thought ‘All Around the World’ was the shit. By the end of the track the sound of synthesiser washes and chilly Rhodes piano suggest a spacier album altogether.
‘Sexy Boy’ was the breakout – though it wasn’t exactly a hit. Its legacy is owed more to its placement on some prominent soundtracks: 10 Things I Hate About You and that scene from Queer As Folk. This one-two punch of electro-pop may be a strong opener but it doesn’t reflect much of Moon Safari.
This is a slick, ambient, bizzaro collection of eletronica. Presented with less flair it would essentially be easy listening. The collaborations with American singer Beth Hirsch on ‘All I Need’ and ‘You Make It Easy’ sound like Neil Diamond songs being played in the year 3000 AD.
By the end of the album all concept of audience participation has been abandoned. ‘Ce matin là’ and ‘New Star in the Sky’ are exceptionally isolated trips to the great beyond. Air’s fasincation with space is well documented (their 6th album was a soundtrack to a 1902 silent film A Trip To The Moon) but this was their first lunar adventure.
Looking back it seems miraculous this ever caught on. Even at their most commercial, Air are a strange and arty proposition. The success of Moon Safari reminds us of a time where the pop palate was wider, encompassing a range of sounds both commercial and underground.
This may sound every bit the creaky late 20th century alt-pop album it is, Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygène delivered with a dash of irony and a love of R&B. However Moon Safari is entirely unique, likely to frustrate or charm depending on listener preference. Talkie Walkie may be their more smooth & melodic album, but Moon Safari is nonetheless an adventure worth taking.