With the 12″ of La Ritournelle still shifting unprecedented units for an import, it just may be that Sébastien Tellier‘s time has come. Four years since he became the first signing to Air‘s Record Makers label, the well-connected Parisian polymath releases his second album, following 2001’s L’Incroyable Verite. And unfashionable as it sounds, he’s called it Politics.
Allegedly, today’s yoof aren’t interested in politics, it’s all as Greek as Aristotle’s ancient tome of the same name. Well, whether this is true or not, La Ritournelle’s wave breaking rolling piano and Tony Allen‘s steady, unyielding percussion could seduce them. Because once behind ‘the only love song’, and behind the rest of Politics’ swathe-like synths and Frank Zappa-esque impishness, there exists a soul that is verily pissed off.
Sensitive souls need not fret however. Tellier is no fool, and is too much in love with the high-jinx of music making to let a troubled conscience distract him from the business of tuneage. Take Mauer for example. Sung by his partner Helene Grand entirely in German narrates the story of an ex-East German who misses the Berlin wall because she can no longer play tennis by herself. The message, that democracy just might not deliver the promised land after all, is so deftly delivered (in warm space-jazz tones yet) that Tellier convinces by lightness-of-touch alone.
Tellier is clearly a musician of irrepressible contradictions. On one hand, a multi-faceted studio prodigy of Rundgren proportions whose impulse to dominate proceedings must be primal. Yet the door of Politics is open to collaboration. Delicate strings weave a tapestry through Broadway and La Ritournelle courtesy of the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, while the brass that bounces through the aforementioned Broadway is sweetly, triumphantly elegiac.
Elsewhere time spent with electro-chum Quentin Dupieux (AKA Mr Oizo) reveals an affection for low-end burbling, but La Tuerie’s angry bubble and fizz hovers at some no-man’s land between self-indulgence and look-at-what-else-I-can-do boisterousness. Compare and contrast that with Slow Lynch, a sensitive new classical interlude of regrettable brevity. Look out Gavin Bryars, there’s a new kid in town.
Ultimately there are just too many twists and turns to digest Politics in one sitting without getting genre-bending indigestion. When successful, like the tongue-in-cheek Wonderafrica with its bossa nova sway and Giorgio Moroder-like inquisitiveness, Politics astonishes with its lassitude. Yet that same scope leads to the well-meant but thudding metaphorical concept of Ketchup Vs Genocide and the tinny synth-disco overload of Zombi.
Ultimately, Politics speaks of a hotchpotch. The booklet notes don’t reveal the times when each track was recorded, but the overall impression is of an artist whose attention wavers too much to nail down an authoritative sound. That said, this is at least one-half of a record of the year, with La Ritournelle worth the price of a double-CD alone.
A wizard, yes. A true star, no doubt. But, at least in album terms, one yet to render his masterpiece. But what lush sketches, mes amis…