Cut Copy's sophomore record, In Ghost Colours, was BlackPlastic's favourite album of 2008. Under the watchful eyes of ex-DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy it seemed that everything the Cutters touched turned to gold. Where debut album Bright Like Neon Love was all glittering pop hooks with the odd post-punk muted guitar the follow up was smeared in a veneer of melancholic synthesisers and seemingly sprinkled with cosmic space dust. Whereas ...Neon Love felt contemporary, In Ghost Colours still sounds like Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac who somehow got stuck in the future with no way of returning. For many, it redefined the reference points - those albums that serve to inspire contemporary musicians. In other words In Ghost Colours is pretty much timeless.
Now Goldsworthy is gone - the question is whether the magic is still there.
One thing is definite - Zonoscope makes a very good first impression. Starting with a trio of killers - 'Need You Tonight', 'Take Me Over' and 'Where I'm Going' - it is difficult not to be won over very early. If you are a fan of the band you are likely to have heard two of these already and both wear Cut Copy's influences on their sleeves - 'Take Me Over' was the Men At Work-esque first single off of the album and 'Where I'm Going', which is even more reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac than anything on the last album, was given away as a free download last year.
Both of these tracks are great but 'Need You Now' still somehow manages to blow them away - a dough-eyed new-romantic-on-MDMA-ballad, the bass pulses along with excitement like a racing heartbeat amid rolling drum breaks and a soaring chorus. It is without doubt the best thing we have heard from Cut Copy yet.
As openers go this almost feels mis-judged. Slamming two singles and an obvious future single right up front leaves the rest of the album feeling slightly askew. Couple that fact with closing track 'Sun God', a fifteen-minute Moroder-esque epic and the first couple of listens to Zonoscope can feel a little deflating. The highs are just so goddamn high that they either make the record's middle third feel somehow less worthy or the highlights themselves end up feeling gimmicky.
But as is often the way with Cut Copy, these are songs that crawl up inside your brain gradually, to the point that you can't imagine a time without them. And they rapidly become as important as the record's more obvious highlights. 'This Is All We've Got' and 'Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat' are better than most tracks on In Ghost Colours whilst 'Alissa' is a fantastic return to that record's dream-like aesthetic. And 'Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution' deserves a mention simply for having the most timely song title of any release, ever.
Several sites, including Pitchfork, have already commented that Zonoscope is more of an album than In Ghost Colours, on the basis that the latter is more a collection of jams than a cohesive whole. BlackPlastic isn't so sure - Bright Like Neon Love was a collection of pop songs, In Ghost Colours a statement of intent. Zonoscope feels no more album like than its predecessor and there are occasional transitions within the first four tracks that feel almost clumsy.
But the songs themselves are certainly as good as any of those Cut Copy have released to now, if not better. This will be the album that divides the hardcore cutters fans from the mainstream - the former might claim this album loses the focus and understatement the band once had, the latter will probably just enjoy the songs. Neither view is wrong - Zonoscope is In Ghost Colour's equal but it doesn't feel as important. This is undeniably another evolution but it doesn't feel like it will change the old records people view as cool, something In Ghost Colours certainly did. Instead it just further reinforces Cut Copy as one of the greatest dance rock bands of our time. And that can be no bad thing.