Babylon Zoo
The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes



by DatsNotDaMetulz USER (62 Reviews)
April 16th, 2020 | 6 replies

Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist

Review Summary: There's more to Babylon Zoo than Spaceman. How much of that is worth listening to is another story.

Ah, Babylon Zoo. One of the best known, yet quickly forgotten one-hit wonders of the 90s. As quickly as they burst onto the scene with their record-breaking megahit “Spaceman”, they vanished into thin air, with 2 poorly received albums and an aborted 3rd effort leaving them nothing more than a footnote in musical history. Part of the reason for this is that people were disappointed to discover that none of the album followed the remixed intro that made “Spaceman” such a hit, but maybe people were too quick to judge? Let’s take a closer look.

The opening salvo for The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes consists of the two main singles released for it: “Animal Army” and “Spaceman”. While not nearly as successful commercially as its counterpart, “Animal Army” does have its own charm, with an extremely catchy quasi-Britpop riff and great production values. However, Jas Mann’s nasal vocal performance and childish lyrics are severely off-putting and can make the track a real challenge to listen to, preventing a potential earworm of a rock song into a cheesy mess. It takes time to be able to tune out the vocals but if you do, there is a good song in there. Then we get to the biggest track of the album, “Spaceman”. This is peak Babylon Zoo: spacey, proto-industrial rock with a brooding tempo and a dirty main riff. But those parts are often what people seem to dislike about the track, which is largely the fault of a Levi’s Jeans ad which only used the remixed intro and misled many people into buying what they thought was a 90s dance track, while alienating more rock-oriented fans. It’s a shame because that was really what simultaneously made and killed Babylon Zoo’s career as soon as it started.

After the opening two tracks, though, the rest of the album has been largely forgotten by the masses. Ask someone to name a third track on The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes and they’ll probably be unable to come up with an answer. However, there are some good moments on there. “Zodiac Sign” is a bit of a slog but shows a different aspect to Babylon Zoo and Jas Mann’s songwriting, taking a more personal approach to the lyrics in a much more grunge influenced environment. As is often the case with debut albums, Babylon Zoo had still yet to find a style that really worked for them and it led to them kind of dancing around grunge, industrial, Britpop and even trying to be David Bowie (the style that they eventually settled on for their ill-judged sophomore album). A big problem that came from that was, due to “Spaceman”’s success, it meant that this search for identity came while there was heavy expectation on them to produce a great album. Tracks such as “Paris Green” end up coming out kinda rushed and contribute nothing to the album as a whole, as a result, while “Confused Art” is just as confused sounding as the name suggests and the title track come off as an attempt at some epic ballad that falls flat on its face. Granted, the tracks still contained some interesting ideas, but the execution failed them.

Interestingly enough, it’s in the slower tracks where Babylon Zoo tend to be at their best, such as in “Zodiac Sign”, “Caffeine” and “Fire Guided Light”. While they could probably do without all the vocal effects (the abundance of which probably contributed to the group’s poorly received live shows), the songs still hold up and reflect the darker edge that a lot of 90s groups had to their music, while still having a nod to rock bands of old. There definitely seemed to be a conscious effort to pay homage to rock music of the 70s while still staying modern and adopting contemporary elements (such as the aforementioned Britpop and industrial rock moments), and while it does work at times it rapidly advanced the ageing process of the album, with an oversaturation of effects making it sound dated pretty quickly as production techniques and electronic music advancing rapidly during that period.

Overall, however, I don’t think The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes deserves the reception it got. While it is messy, rushed and dated, it still presents a great deal of fun and interesting ideas and, had there not been quite so much pressure to deliver after the success of “Spaceman”, there could have been a much more consistent end product. Ultimately, the failure of the record, band lineup changes and the abomination that was King Kong Groover led to a pretty fast demise for the group and Babylon Zoo will forever remain a forgotten also-ran in the annals of music history. Occasionally, rumours of a reunion crawl to the surface and dissipate pretty fast, but there really isn’t much appetite for one and, although they may have been harshly treated during their time at the top, frontman Jas Mann is in a much better place now with his work in film production and really, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.


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Comments:Add a Comment 
April 16th 2020


Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Was inspired to do this after hearing there might be a new album by these guys this year. I dunno if it's actually happening but y'know, there are actually some decent ideas on this album if you can ignore the annoying vocals.

April 16th 2020


Omg this brings back some mad memories. Spaceman will always hold a special place with me lol

Staff Reviewer
April 17th 2020


Spacemaaaaaan, oh man, nostalgia punch lol

April 17th 2020


I remember first hearing Spaceman in an amateur porn and I spent more time listening to the song than whacking off

November 18th 2022


Album Rating: 2.5


October 17th 2023


I'm realising now that I actually really like Spaceman

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