A Level results days is always such a mixed bag of emotions: from the people who walk away with a handful of A’s, to the people like me who barely scraped a pass, or worse failed completely. To say I was gutted when I received my A Level results is something of an understatement. I was predicted C’s, so when my results came back as two D’s and an E, I was quite upset. Luckily, I’d managed to secure a place at university through the magic of an administrative error: the course I’d applied for at Keele University had been pulled from the curriculum at the last minute, so I was offered a place on any course I wanted, so long as I came out with two E’s. As soon as I received the letter confirming this, I pretty much checked-out of my studies, spending more time playing pool and drinking beer than studying. My results were my own fault, and I knew it – it was that realisation that I’d let myself down that bothered me more than the actual grades, and I knew that I was perfectly capable of better.
It’s strange how these results have stuck with me, and no matter what I have achieved since, they always seem to come back and bite me in the arse. In March 2011, I was awarded a PhD, and prior to that I’d completed a Masters’ degree with distinction – I’m a much different person now than I was as an eighteen year old, but as I say, the A Level results still seemed to matter. I tried applying for quite a few of those graduate recruitment schemes, but was kicked out of the selection process almost immediately due to my A Level results, with the universal response from these companies that those were the rules and they couldn’t make exceptions. The fact that I’d taught A Level and undergraduate classes was of no consequence. It seemed a little short-sighted by these companies, but I’m sure they have their reasons.
When I was in college, I used have to take two buses across town every day in order to attend classes. My Discman was a Godsend for those tedious bus-rides home. I remember the album I listened to on the bus home from picking up my A Level results: Moon Safari by Air.
Moon Safari is one of those albums that has always cheered me up, not in any obvious way like ‘Come on ‘n’ ride it’ by Quad City DJ’s (their apostrophe, not mine), but in a more gentle and subtle way that just makes you feel all nice inside. I remember flicking through my CD wallet and thinking carefully about what to put on: Manic Street Preachers’ Holy Bible would have sent me to the depths of despair; Primal Scream’s Screamadelica was just too damn cheery; Placebo’s debut was too sexually charged; Helmet’s Betty was too loud; Sonic Youth’s Experimental Jet-set, Trash and No Star was too discordant; and Air just seemed to hit the spot - like Mummy Bear’s porridge, it was just right.
I don’t think I’ve listened to Moon Safari in almost a decade, and I was worried that the production might sound stale. Luckily for me, Air seem to use a lot of analogue synths, so a few of their tracks still manage to feel fresh. Album opener ‘La femme d'argent’, with its relaxed bass riff and jazz-inspired keyboard noodling, immediately put me back into that cheerful state of mind. ‘Sexy Boy’ still sounds excellent: its dirty synths and French vocals combining beautifully. Also, I am reminded of how great the music video is to this song – there really aren’t enough giant chimps in music videos anymore. ‘All I Need’ sounds a bit dated now; the combination of bass and vocal melody in this song is quite stunning, but I just can’t get past the cheesy production. ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’ (another song with a fantastic video) is a fun piece of music. Though I’m not usually a fan of over-produced vocals, the vocoder is much more fitting with the rest of Air’s sound than cleaner vocals. The same can be said for ‘Remember’ and ‘You Make it Easy’: whereas ‘Remember’ amps up the vocoder and provides a perfect piece of Kraftwerk-inspired electronica, ‘You Make It Easy’ feels rather stilton-esque. What comes through is that the more electro-sounding tracks have aged much better than their traditional counterparts.
But are the stand-out tracks enough to save the album from being slung into a plastic bag and sent off to Poverty Aid? This is a difficult one because the album has so many memories attached to it. But, on reflection, the sheer fact that this album has sat amongst my CDs for nigh on a decade without so much as a second glance is quite telling. It was nice to give the album a listen again, and I will probably download a few tracks onto my MP3 player, but it is time to bid Air au revoir, they are French after all.
And so another CD is added to the cull pile and a little bit more space is made on my CD shelves.