Air were one of the very first to make chillout music cool and, dare I say, fashionable to listen to. Their debut album remains a thoroughly lovely listen. Released 20 years ago this month, Air combined chillout aesthetic with downtempo percussion, whilst adding that crucial pop element that made the record such a success. It’s pleasant, comforting, and frequently absorbing. It’s hard to imagine anyone not having a good time with it. When Moon Safari is at its best, it goes well beyond background listening.
Opening track “La femme d’argent” is an absolute dream. Smooth keys and funky basslines glide through the percussion like velvet. “Sexy Boy” is a downtempo anthem, if such a thing exists, due largely to such a simple yet catchy chorus, and once again benefitting from a sumptuous bass riff. Indeed, the basslines in general are superb, keeping Moon Safari flowing fluently. Mostly. If I have one criticism of Air’s debut record, it’s that the last few tracks do tail off ever so slightly. They meld together in a way that is pleasant but somewhat unremarkable. I appreciate it’s a difficult feat to retain the luxurious, relaxing vibe for 45 minutes whilst also keeping the listener’s full attention, but the end result does make Moon Safari seem top heavy, if only a little.
Still, a minor blip in the album’s sequencing shouldn’t distract from its many qualities and achievements. Moon Safari is still considered one of the most important chillout albums of all time, and for good reason. The opening half hour is truly wonderful, and not many records have found that same balance between downtempo and pop. Beth Hirsch’s vocals on “All I Need” and “You Make it Easy” compliment the balance even further, even if it is a little French Café. The vocal melodies are simple, yet often engaging enough for them to stick. There’s that balance again. Overall, Moon Safari is a treat; warm, inviting, and frankly irresistible. Props to Air for making vocoders sound sort of beautiful, too.8 10
Favourite tracks // La femme d’argent
This is passive and luxurious muzak. I (mostly) don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Moon Safari has no shortage of admirable qualities. The arrangements are sophisticated, the mix is bubbly and colourful, and the vocals drift through the track list like a good daydream. It’s all terribly pleasant, especially early on. “Sexy Boy” manages to be lush and lurid at the same time, while “Kelly Watch the Stars” wastes no time flinging you across the cosmos. The soft cooings of Beth Hirsch’s vocals are everything the record deserves. The opening stretch is an electronic delight.
It’s the run-in that doesn’t quite land. Moon Safari slips after “Remember” and never quite gets back in stride. It still sounds marvelous, but the substance of the songs loses form and I find myself losing focus every listen. There are worse things than drifting through an Air album, but it still undermines my confidence in a largely focused work. Taken all together, Moon Safari reminds me of those psychedelic animations used to showcase the quality of new televisions. It achieves a vivid sensory kick, but I can’t help but wish it was aiming for more.7 10
Favourite tracks // Kelly Watch the Stars
I have a lot of time for Moon Safari. While nostalgia no doubt plays a part, Air’s debut still sounds smooth as butter. It glides along throughout its forty-three-minute playtime, full of bass lines that hit the spot and hooks that’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished listening. “La femme d’argent” is a sensational opener, starting strong and setting the mood for the rest of the album. Where Beth Hirsch’s vocals feature, they shine, reminiscent of Portishead frontwoman, Beth Gibbons, albeit with a tad more sunshine and calm mixed in. Even midway through, in the depths of the album, “Talisman” and “Remember” both hold their own as a lounging Bond theme and robot ballad respectively. Certainly, for the first two-thirds of its tracklist, Moon Safari is sublime, but setting the rose tinted glasses aside, it’s the final third that dampens the mood slightly.
While there are no glaring errors , the last three or four tracks are far more downtempo, drifting off into the abyss. “Le voyage de Pénélope” is a lush, beautiful track, but as a closer, it doesn’t feel like a conclusion and the upshot is an album you don’t remember finishing. In isolation, “Ce matin-là” is a wistful, breezy track with a bashful horn section and swathes of strings and “New Star In The Sky” shimmers and meanders along beautifully. Together at the end of the album, however, they don’t make as much of an impact and ultimately drag the rest of the tracklist down with it. I do not doubt that a rearrangement of tracks would bolster this to being a wholly brilliant album, but as it is, it remains a largely excellent release that paved the way for the duo’s ensuing career. This will undoubtedly keep its place in my regular rotation of music.7 10
Favourite tracks // La femme d’argent
All I Need