Mozez featuring Yvonne John-Lewis, "Spinning Top" (2005)
Say what you will about Zero 7 -- and many people who think the band is, or has devolved into, coffee table muzak do -- but they sure know how to pick their vocalists.
I don't simply mean that the boys of Zero 7 have done a pretty good job choosing some very strong and/or distinctive singers. Although that's true too: Sia Furler has a weary-yet-growly voice that is unmistakeable, as is Sophie Barker's ethereal one. (And when the band has the foresight to combine the two, on a classic like "Destiny," the results are stunning, and no overexposure of the song via a million chillout compilations should change that.) Mozez may at points sound a little too transparently like the band's attempt to have their own Terry Callier, but his voice has a warmth that's very comforting. And Tina Dico...well, Tina is my least favorite, and part of what made the second Zero 7 album less interesting than the first may have been her -- at least comparatively speaking -- colorlessness. Sorry, Tina. You have a tough last name ("Dickow," hee hee), so I realize I'm just adding to your problems. Maybe in the future I'll post something from your solo album, to make it up to you.
No, what I find additionally interesting about Zero 7's vocalists is the way that, even as they work with the band as, essentially, glorified session singers, they nevertheless seem to be making music they themselves enjoy. They're being true to their souls, man. Zero 7, that is to say, create the impression that they have always used, not just hired larynxes, but people who appear to be like-minded souls. We know this because, when the solo albums come, as they have, they keep with the kind of music Zero 7 makes. Sophie's floaty mini-album from last year, Earthbound
, is not a million miles from her Zero 7 tracks (except, unfortunately, less catchy), while Sia's work has actually become
more and more aligned with the chilled soul of Zero 7. Her big song, "Breathe Me," after all, while a little more electronically bleepy, could have fitted into the last Zero 7 long player, whereas her other, earlier big number, "Taken For Granted," couldn't.
I like this sort of continuity: it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, imagining that they are all one big happy family. I get somewhat annoyed when a singer with some act -- say, a disco diva who lends her pipes to a big house number -- gets a solo deal as a result, then is all like, "Yes, but what I really want to do is direct
," and goes on to make a 20s polka album or something.
But of course, the drawback that comes when Zero 7's singers make albums that sound like Zero 7's work is that the former's efforts then get overlooked or dismissed. (Sia's gradual success with "Breathe Me" really came about because of the song's use in several TV shows, and, in the US, it's not she's known as "that voice in Zero 7" anyway.) Mozez's album from last year, So Still
, didn't garner that much attention. Maybe that's indeed because he didn't shy away from, or try to break with Zero 7's sound. Quite the opposite. Henry Binns even guests on one track, and the whole album features the kind of smooth, sweeping organic soul numbers that resemble "I Have Seen" or, especially, "Warm Sound."
The best song on the album, this track called "Spinning Top,"
even courts trouble with a lyric ("Spinning
wheel keep turning/until our destiny
is one") that namechecks, not one, but two Zero 7 tracks. But you know, it's all fine, because Mozez comes close to trumping
his teachers on this song. It's, well, really very, very pretty and swirly. In what is either a breathtaking act of stupidity or selflessness, Mozez has handed over all vocal duties on what is the album's standout track to a vocalist that he in turn discovered, one Yvonne John-Lewis (who, yeah, sounds a bit like Sophie). The production features a strummy acoustic guitar, laid over a chunky bass and a bed of silky backing vocals -- all very Zero 7. When the second refrain kicks in, some subtle pizzicato strings even enter to keep things fresh. And then there is that killer chorus: dreamy, going up an octave higher from the verses, and sung with undeniably emotive yearning. Zero 7 should just take the song as is and plop it on their third album. (And then we just need to keep it off those million chillout comps.)