Maybe it’s to do with the cosmopolitan hi-falutin’ city lifestyle I was enjoying at the time, but the late 1990s seem to be a time of endless balsamic vinegar drizzles, piles of badly cooked polenta, and Gary Rhodes’ unbeatable bread and butter pudding. And if you got tired of dining out on expense accounts you could bring the experience home by hosting a dinner party: simply invite your most tolerable acquaintances over, pray they bring a bottle of something decent, and curate an evening’s listening from the most inoffensive new albums in your carousel.
But what to select to impress in 1998? Something cool, yet sophisticated, of course. Something recognisable, but not too populist. A year later and you could walk any given North London street and expect to hear the sounds of Moby’s Play doing for Alan Lomax’s field recordings what Paul Simon had done for African musicians, but back in 1998 your go-to artists could have been French duo Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, otherwise known as Air.
In 1997, Air released their debut EP Premiers Symptômes. A year later they followed it with Moon Safari, and for a brief while there was nothing cooler than this electronic space-pop. It was at once mystical and European, the way Kraftwerk appeared to be, but also universal - not to mention Universal. Predating and probably partly responsible for the subsequent chill-out years of the new millennium, Moon Safari brought insouciance and exuded a kind of coolness that it somehow drew from a sonic template that would normally be enjoyed with a knowing arch of the eyebrows. It features a song called Sexy Boy that ought to be laughable, but which is magnificent.
The first track on Moon Safari, though, is the seven-minute instrumental La Femme D’Argent. You can’t love me ironically, it seems to say, with its funky disco basslines and thoroughly un-modern synthesiser sounds, because I am already too ironic.