recommended choice

Half Full Of Happiness -
the Zoot Woman returns

I just stopped by the Columbia Hall. Zoot Woman were doing their sound checks. Very upfront. Not so different from the album. They were playing "Grey Day." The first track of the new album. No, you're not supposed to have the album. It's a promo. You're supposed to let me tell you about it so you can decide if you'd like to buy it in a few weeks time. You won't even find it on file sharing, or maybe you do, but then you don't get any download slot.

It's not that I'm working for them. Zoot Woman worked for me. I mean, I was impressed by the new Human League album that summer 2001, but it's when I heard the Zoot Woman debut album that it struck me. I understood something was going on. Not just casual. Something new is coming along. So I started a website which later became euRoClAsh .com.

And maybe you already heard some babble about the new album being not as good as the first. Don't listen to them. The new album is different. If the first album was Hall & Oates meets Nik Kershaw, this one is more like The Cure meet Hipsway, the Faint, Sigur Ros and Cocteau Twins.

Are you starting to get the picture? It's dark. It's melancholic. It's sad and beautiful. You will most probably hear "Grey Day" first, since it seems to be the new single - it's the track that sounds the most like the old Zoot Woman, but with a melancholy that's like a footpress on the brakes. It won't take off like the old songs. You will come to think they have become weaker.

Wrong approach. Restart the CD from behind. Listen to it back to front. A Glass "Half Full Of Happiness" is supposed to mean positivity. Hall full as opposed to being half empty. Here it's more like desperately trying to see things half full when they are actually half empty. An electric bass that sounds like the Cure 1978. Guitar chords and a kick drum. Just Johnny's vocals still sound like Zoot Woman. The guitar is played backwards. A warm-hearted sad bridge. It's like the whole record is going backwards. Noises of vinyl. Metropolitan retrosadness. 70s synthesizers. Like Tangerine Dream 1978. Or Space. And then the song ends too soon, as if we were waiting for the big surprise. But Zoot Woman are not in the mood for surprises. Not this time around.

Track number nine, "Maybe Say." Cellos. Strings. Maybe Stuart shouldn't have worked for Madonna. He's been touring with her on the Drowned Tour. Maybe it drowned him a bit. Or where does this sadness come from? Minor chords. Minor moods. Before I think of the song it already melts away. I've got a feeling, it's sad.

"Useless Anyway" is my favourite. I love diminished chords. "Nothing left to say." Now if you weren't sure if this album is desperate, this song is. And it is brilliant. Dramatically combined, the Cure chords with the Zoot Woman technique of having the electric bass and the acoustic drums play strictly to the beat of the computer. It's all re-engineered to utter perfection. The bass note starts in sync with the kick drum and ends in sync with the snare drum. Guitars as well. Back then in the 80s it was the aim of good production to sound that way, but they had to play it like that live. These days Stuart can produce the sound of the 80s as it was originally intended, more perfect than the originals. This song reminds me of something in the 80s, but I can't tell you what. When I find it I will realize it's only half as beautiful as this. This song isn't useless at all. But I wished it was longer and had one more bridge or chorus.

The whole album actually is lacking some obvious choruses and sing-along hooklines. It was not in the mood of the Zoot I assume. The first album was meant to hit your vocal chords, this one slowly creeps into your heart. "Calmer" is a trip hop track. Yes, you heard what I said. It's like the boys who've been spending so much time being ahead of time felt like picking up something they left behind. Instrumental trip hop. The kind that still finds appreciation in intellectual lounges.

This is so eighties says the young lady next to me, "Woman Wonder" features an upfront synthesizer line in a way hardly anyone ever did in the 80s. She's too young to know. I like how younger ones perceive this. And as the song develops it does get 80s. The production, so complex and fat and multilayered. Another strong song, but somehow short.

Stop the press, what is this? Country music! A banjo strumming on a shuffled mood. But as soon as Johnny starts singing, the Zoot feel is there. "Snow White." Another interesting track.

Ha! Here comes a rocker. Classic Zoot Woman style. Bass line and drums in 4, melodic vocals on top. Nothing more. And then suddenly synth chords come in, just like in a club music production. A song you could expect from Black Strobe or Miss Kittin. And then a breakdown, a bridge featuring a touch of guitar. Just a touch, the club strength is back. This is a club track, it just needs some remixing. "Hope In The Mirror." Melancholy with a touch of hope, for a change. Over too soon.

"Gem" features melodies on the bass line, again in a very curesque fashion. Dance pop beat, Zoot Woman style, and yet the track is resting on a bed of introversion. Good. Could use a chorus. Something that gives us hope. No, it stays as it is, and ends early. They're not doing music for us. It's for them.

But the most amusing track comes last. At least for me. I mean, it's like a joke. After all the sadness comes "Taken It All" featuring blatant deep house happiness on top of a shuffle beat. Shuffle beats are in vogue, but so far electro people have been using them, like Goldfrapp, das Bierbeben or Covenant. The Zoots decide to combine the new beat with the established feel of house music, which is something only International Pony have been doing, and you probably haven't even heard of them, unless you're german. If the Londoner house scene can take the joke of getting shuffled around, this is their late summer dancefloor hit. Excellent. But please also go buy International Pony.

Stuart is a bass player. No microphone. Adam bangs dem drums. Johnnie sings and plays guitar, and he sings well. Someone mentioned he might not be good at singing, but whatever concert he had been at it must have had bad monitoring. Johnny sings damn well.

The gig was okay, even though not at a proper volume, I guess the promoters wanted to make sure the later artists would have a stronger impact, so they only gave us full power for Blumfeld and Mogwai. I suggest Zoot better bring their own Loudness Maximizer.

The audience didn't know who it was getting. I was pretty much the only one occasionally jumping to the beat. The new songs sounded quite in harmony with the old ones. They were all a little less instrumented and engineered as on the albums - in particular we were missing the second voices on the vocals. Stuart should work on his singing to at least give us second voices. Please Stuart please. Adam? Just try it, Adam! Singing is just a question of exercise, if you already have a feel for music. Anyone can learn to sing.

And maybe Zoot should indeed have a keyboard player to be able to do those warm rhythmic chords of "You & I" live. They didn't play that song. They didn't play a lot of songs. They were only given limited time. "Grey Day" sounded very powerful. Also "Taken It All" and the obvious "It's Automatic" sticked out, while "Living In A Magazine" sounded like other songs before, not as strong. They also played an unreleased guitar-and-voice-only song.

Zoot Woman old website.
Zoot Woman future website.
Other reviews of the new album.

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