Zero 7’s Simple Things Turned 18 Today

Zero 7's Simple Things

An album that changed my life in so many ways. This is my clumsy ode to Simple Things by Zero 7.

This will be a stream of consciousness type essay because Simple Things is that kind of album to me. And the way I found Zero 7 – and the album – was in an unlikely place.

I spent my college years (that’s ages 16-18 for any Americans reading) being a pseudo-extrovert. I’d been super academic at high school but struggled to bridge the gap between school and socialising. So I put on a front to make friends and make people laugh. I joined an anime club, made jokes, and tried to fit in. I went to house parties and tried to be the centre of attention. In truth, I was trying to copy my then-best friend, Jon. He seemed to get all the attention with minimal effort and I wanted that too.

One evening, while we were all at a friend’s house, we were looking for music to play. Jon suggested a track called Destiny. The lyric “I’m watching porn in my hotel dressing gown” was also mentioned. This intrigued me, not because of the porn reference, but because it was openly mentioned in a commercial song. From then on, I was hooked. This was in 2006 so Limewire and P2P clients were at their peak. I downloaded everything I could find by them and played them non-stop for the next two years. (I’d like to point out I have since bought subsequent albums on CD and legally downloaded MP3’s from iTunes since).

I could go on about all the rest of their discography but this is about Simple Things. And the title is perfect. Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross sang that the best things in life are free but maybe the best things in life are simple. This would be the perfect soundtrack to appreciate those in the present. That’s how I treated Zero 7’s debut opus. It came out on this day in 2001 during a time when chillout (or downtempo) music was all the rage. Groove Armada, Café Del Mar, Nightmares on Wax, and Jakatta were some of the names bandied about under the genre name. But to me, Simple Things has always been “soul” music. Not necessarily soul music in the Al Green/Stevie Wonder/Roberta Flack sense but music to enrich the soul.

When I listen to Simple Things, I picture the sun in a clear blue sky. An example of a simple thing we might take for granted; the fact we can wake up and if we’re lucky, experience a beautiful day with no clouds and all sun. The Rhodes piano is a prominent feature on the album as are the subtle hip hop rhythms. It wasn’t until later I realised the stylistic kinship Zero 7 shared with J Dilla and Madlib. This laid down the foundations for my fandom for both producers. Destiny was the best possible title for that song.

But what of the rest of the album?

The opener, I Have Seen, is actually a cover of a song by The Peddlers (something I didn’t discover until 2012 when I saw the album it was on in a record store in Chicago). Now Mozez is a soul singer in the Green/Wonder/Flack sense and infused that power into what was originally a rock/orchestral number.

Polaris used a Quincy Jones sample for the opening and closing phrases, with a beautiful waltzing rhythm and jazzy undertones.

Destiny is a song most people have heard. Sia (before her chandelier swinging days) shared vocal duties with Sophie Barker (another frequent collaborator and beautiful vocalist on her merit) and it’s one of the most underrated duets of the 00s in all honesty.

Give It Away always felt like a hopeful variant on I Have Seen’s orchestral theme, while the title track is the polar opposite.

Red Dust is certainly more subdued, with most of the Rhodes work in a lower register and the beats are heavier and most “dusty” sounding.

Distractions is a sad song lyrically – it talks about the difficulty in letting go of a relationship, and the time-stretched beat conveys that brilliantly.

In The Waiting Line is a superb performance from Sophie Barker with the stylistic and commercial prowess of Destiny (it was used in House, The OC, and the film Garden State). Also great use of tape echoes and sound art.

Out of Town gives prominence to horns and guitars, which allows it to stand out on album full of highlights.

This World acts as Mozez’s final performance with some sombre words on lost potential captured exquisitely by a string ensemble.

Likufanele (which means has a deeper meaning you can read about in this article) is the penultimate track on the album. It’s also the most uplifting. It features an African choir but doesn’t feel cheap for doing so (at least they didn’t use Ladysmith Black Mambazo).

And finally, a cover to end as it did to begin – End Theme. I only found out this was a cover last year because I’m late. It’s fascinating how similar Zero 7’s rendition sounds compared to the original, but not at a detriment. And by no means a straight copy. End Theme is more verbose and doesn’t employ the use of echo or reverb in nearly the same way.

I can’t say that was my finest synopsis for an album. Certainly not worthy of a quality review. But I listen to Simple Things for its emotional evocation rather than any academic merit. A deeper analysis would be superb to read as that merit exists and the album is worthy of it. But for now, I will continue to listen to Simple Things once a week. Because it has helped me through bouts of anxiety and depression and been the soundtrack to happy memories. It’s my idea of an all-weather LP. It’s the simple things, you know?


About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.

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