The debut album by Air is soaring towards its twenty-fifth anniversary. A big part of the reason people are still enjoying Moon Safari is its tasteful mash-up of genres. Melding lounge, electronica, chill-out, pop, even trip-hop, this charming album is friendly, accessible, and a sustained delight.
The LP opens with the lounge jazz instrumental “La Femme d’Argent”, though those adjectives don’t do justice to the bewitching slinkiness of the tune nor its impeccable keyboard cool. When I first heard this on a magazine CD I fell instantly in love with the “Silver Woman” and simply had to have the album she appeared on. If you have a taste for retro-styled electric piano, you’ll be in heaven for all seven minutes of this gem.
Though the rest of Moon Safari doesn’t quite live up to this pearler of an opener, it remains a hugely enjoyable listen two decades on.
A big part of the attractiveness of the album is the diversity within its unified sound. “You Make it Easy” is a smooth bossa ballad sung by Beth Hirsch, “Kelly Watch the Stars” starts dreamily before adding a bouncing bass-line that will make you groove even if you’re flaked out on the couch in your galactic safari suit after dancing all night at some Venusian disco.
The two musicians, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, hail from Versailles in France and clearly have a love of everything from bouncy pop (the hit “Sexy Boy”) to romantic Bacharach pastiche (“Ce Matin La”). But they also know their electro-pop history; “Remember” uses Electric Light Orchestra vocoder and a rhythmic foundation evoking a sexier Kraftwerk. In fact, what makes the album so enjoyable is the sense of knowing homage; Air are celebrating, not copying. A personal favourite is the wistful electronica of “Talisman” that floats a pretty keyboard melody on another terrific bass line enriched by some deft synth strings. “New Star” even has harmonica and acoustic guitar, proving that these friends are not entirely electric.
The balance of instrumentals, vocoder voices and smooth guest vocals (the aforementioned Ms Hirsch) provide enough variety for Moon Safari to be a trip that is worth taking again and again. The safari is not remotely dangerous but it certainly is entertaining. Book your seat on the next lunar rocket; Air’s Moon may not have oxygen but it has plenty of atmosphere. And there is no dark side.