It begins with a roll of the shoulder, then a pirouette and a dip of the head, eyes almost glued to the feet. The Zidane Turn is truly one of the most extraordinary dance steps of modern times, remaining on a football pitch and kept off the world's dance floors purely by the fact that only one man can do it. But its inspiration is felt in unusual places. "I was sitting in the studio thinking about how we were gonna make this record happen?" says Sam Hardaker, one half of Zero 7. "We definately needed to turn things round at that point. The song is about overcoming self doubt I suppose and I just liked the image of Zidane changing a situation in a second in such a graceful way"
The track is Everything Up (Zizou) and it came at a pivotal time in the making of Yeah Ghost, Zero 7's fourth album. 2006's The Garden took the original conception of Zero 7 - lush, opulent melodies, lissome arrangements, vocals bordering on sombre - to its logical limit. Having had a mutual parting of the ways with long-time collaborator Sia, Sam and partner Henry Binns knew they wanted a change.
They tried pared-back electronic side-projects Ingrid Eto and Kling, touring one of them as a live band to disparate audiences, some receptive, some bellowing out for Sia. Explains Sam, "It was a waste of time for all our efforts to have just the one outlet, which was the Zero 7 album. So we decided to play around with some smaller projects, to allow ourselves the freedom to do what we like. We enjoyed the chaos, the thrill of knowing it could all fall apart at any moment."
Though the experience was rejuvenating, Sam's idea to make the next album more instrumental, with any vocals handled by Henry hit a wall in the form of Henry's (who still has nightmares about singing one of Jose Gonzalez's tunes off The Garden to 40,000 James Blunt fans in Hyde Park) reluctance to assume front man status. "I am not a singer," he says emphatically." However, his lead vocals do very successfully feature on both Your Place from The Garden and fittingly on Everything Up (Zizou) from Yeah Ghost.
If that track's the symbolic turning point, the literal one came in the shape of singer Eska Mtungwazi. The Londoner, whose collaboration credits include Matthew Herbert and The Elektriks, bowled into Henry's Glastonbury home studio with a Britney Spears CD and a whole new attitude. "She blew life all over the music," he says. "She put everything into shape, up to then it was a bit shaky and I was seriously considering forging a career in carpentry."
Eska sings on four tracks, including lead single Medicine Man. An immediate signal of the new energy coursing through Zero 7, Mr. McGee is radically different to anything they've released before, a blast of dance-pop post-adolescent fun that weaves its way around Basement Jaxx, Young Disciples and the blues guitarist, Brownie McGee. It almost didn't happen. Eska was working on her album and wanted neither the distraction nor the 'session singer' tag. But, as Henry tells it. "When she wrote the lyrics for Medicine Man, she had the whole thing done in 24 hours! When it comes that quickly there's obviously something right and she couldn't get away from that. She changed it all in a matter of two days. We thought we had a bunch of nothing and she came in and just did all of those tracks."
Revelatory as Eska's work is (she also features on the soulful, spiritual The Road and insomniac's raver Sleeper) Zero 7 haven't produced their most eclectic and ambitious album to date by turning it into a one-woman show. Pop Art Blue stars Martha Tilston, descended from folk royalty and the owner of a voice of rare crystalline beauty. Led by acoustic guitar, shimmering drum brushes and whispering bass, Pop Art Blue is possibly the last remnant of The Garden-era Zero 7, although it wasn't meant that way. Smiles Henry, "You wouldn't believe if I played you the demo - it has a breakbeat on it." Then there's Swing, a poppy bob through steel drums and a ballroom keyboard sound.
Dotted throughout the album are signs of what might have been. A quartet of mostly instrumental tracks, derived from their Kling/Ingrid Eto Sojourn, recorded in the studio then sampled, overdubbed, rebuilt from scratch. This yielded the haunting Solastalgia (homesickness without leaving home brought by environmental changes), Ghost Symbol's avant experiment in electronica and distorted vocals (featuring the mysterious Jackie Daniels), the shuffling, twitchy closer, All Of Us and the evocative intro, Count Me Out.
On Yeah Ghost Zero 7 are embracing fresh ways of thinking. The childhood friends (Sam and Henry met while still North London schoolboys) rode speedily to stardom on the back of a handful of unforgettable remixes and their platinum-selling debut, Simple Things. Their first three albums captured Sam and Henry in their zone, Yeah Ghost is them breaking free. "This time, from an early stage, we were clocking ourselves as we went though the steps of writing," Sam says. "Trying to be a bit more aware of our habits and to approach the process of making a record in a different ways."
From a place where they were considering jacking it in, Zero 7 have emerged with their boldest, brightest, happiest work yet. In the words of Everything Up (Zizou) "Turn it round like Zinedine Zidane/ Imagine if we can."