At a time when the news headlines are dominated by questions of whether greater European union is a good thing or a bad thing, perhaps the Remain camp could do worse than look at the case of Victoria+Jean.
The couple, romantic as well as musical partners, consist of the Swedish Victoria on vocals and Jean from Belgium on guitar – the former used to live in Paris and was educated in England, and they got together following a chance encounter in a rehearsal room in Brussels. It’s a union that’s produced a sound which is refreshingly difficult to pigeonhole.
For their debut album, the couple struck on the ambitious idea of hunting down their favourite producers, and sending them tracks for them to work on. Impressively, it was an approach that worked, and so names like John Parrish (of PJ Harvey fame), Rob Kirwen (who’s worked with The Horrors), Christoffer Berg (The Knife) and Rob Kirwan are on the credits for the album. The easiest comparison would be to someone like The Kills – there’s certainly a similar, smouldering, swaggering form of blues-rock to be found on Divine Love, but there also seems to be a surprise hiding around every corner.
There are many aspects to Victoria+Jean’s sound on display throughout Divine Love – Holly is irresistibly poppy and bouncy, while Harlige Sverige is dreamy and laid-back, but they’re really at their best when they let rip. Your Baby Don’t Know Me is built upon layers of fiery guitar riffs as Victoria whoops and hollers as if her life depended on it, and Firecracker is utterly barmy in the best possible way: starting off sounding like Daft Punk being put through the blender, it becomes increasingly more deranged with speeded up effects, throaty screams from Victoria and a refrain of “I’ve been living on sweet cocaine”. It’s on tracks like this that you can only imagine their live show would be a huge amount of fun.
As you’d expect with the famous names on display in the production credits, they sometimes wear their influences a bit too close on their sleeves. Why Won’t You is a dead-ringer for To Bring You My Love-era PJ Harvey, and there are obvious nods to the likes of Goldfrapp and the avant-garde electronica of The Knife at times. Yet none of this detracts from the fact that Victoria has a truly impressive voice – just listen to the increasingly otherwordly octave on Holly – or that Jean can produce some particularly incendiary guitar work when called upon to do so. The chemistry between the two fairly sizzles out of the speaker.
The album is cleverly bookended by the title track and the similarly named final track Define Love – the former is all breezy, light and atmospheric, a kind of calm before the sonic storm to come, while the latter is brooding, bruised and heavy on the synths and vocal distortion, with some lyrical callbacks to the earlier song. It’s the perfect ending to what is a seriously impressive debut album, and one of the more suprisingly effective adverts for European union.