Zero 7 When It Falls

[Palm Pictures; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: downtempo, trip-hop, electronica, acid jazz
Others: Morcheeba, Air, DJ Cam, Bob James

"Smooth" would be the operative buzzword for Zero 7's new record, When it Falls. Replete with flutes, ample servings of Fender Rhodes keyboard, and wah-wah guitar, Zero 7's new record is an inoffensive, slickly produced, and overall an enjoyable album that will satisfy fans of their previous work. When it Falls will perhaps cause Zero 7 to gain a few new fans with their trans-temporal "sound," which is essentially a contemporary take on the early-'70s crossover jazz sounds of Bob James, George Benson, Chuck Mangione, et al. The overall feel of this record is also musically quite similar to the instrumental tracks on Air's first full-length, Moon Safari. Like Moon Safari, Zero 7's new album is primarily comprised of vocal tracks peppered with a few lengthy instrumental tracks, such as the album's epic title track, an extremely warm, Rhodes-driven piece of smooth jazz-funk. Furthermore, the vocals from Sophie Barker, Tina Dico, Mozez, and Sia Furler add enough variety to the tracks to keep the record from becoming too repetitive (Mozez, Furler, and Barker also appeared on Zero 7's first effort, 2001's Simple Things).

The masterminds behind Zero 7, Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, got their start as producers, and their adept production skills are omnipresent on When it Falls. In fact, the record features the distinct presence of mid-to-late-'70s Alan Parsons Project-style production, coupled with a contemporary twist, on several of the tracks here. Additionally, When it Falls appears to contain more live instrumentation than their debut album Simple Things, particularly with regard to their talented rhythm section and excellent keyboard playing. While most of the album is relatively straightforward as far as song structure is concerned, a few of the tracks, such as the final piece, "Morning Song," contain some abstract elements, which serve to give the record a dark edge. In fact, the strings on this track sound somewhere between Bernard Herrmann's scoring for Psycho, and the orchestrations on Isaac Hayes' masterpiece, Hot Buttered Soul.

Zero 7 has always impressed me with their composition and production skills. Their remix of Radiohead's "Climbing Up the Walls," for instance, was one of the greatest remixes ever, and really did justice to the original song. Simple Things was also a great record, which featured some memorable tracks. When it Falls, while not a masterpiece, is a nice album which will likely appeal to a very broad fan base. It's pleasing to the ear and proved a nice diversion from some of the more experimental works I've listened to lately.

1. Warm Sound
2. Home
3. Somersault
4. Passing By
5. Over Our Heads
6. When it Falls
7. The Space Between
8. Speed Dial No. 2
9. Look Up
10. In Time
11. Morning Song

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