Album Reviews

Yael Naim & David Donatien – Yael Naim & David Donatien

(Atlantic) UK release date: 31 March 2008


When the creative director of Apple’s advertising agency first heard New Soul by Yael Naim & David Donatien he must have dropped his latte in his lap with amazement. For it’s impossible to imagine a song more suited to the brave new dawn of accessible technology than the track which currently graces the current MacBook advert.

Faux-naif lyrics about discovering the world for the first time, la-la-la? Check. A plinky-plonky piano motif? Check. Parping tubas – just for a bit of quirkiness, you understand? Check. And presto, we’re all set to advertise a paper-thin laptop, or equally possibly anything with a touch screen, Bluetooth headset or flexible monthly contract with a bundle of free texts.

Bring on the Plasticene rabbits, exploding rainbow paintpots, bouncy concrete walls and soft-focus shots of hugging ragazzi gurning for the camera in the city square – for here we are unmistakably in the infantile sonic world of the pan-global technology advertising campaign. And what a cuddly utopia it is. It’s the kind of music that companies like to use to try and convince us that when there’s a power cut in Manhattan, people dance in the street and give away generous scoops of ice-cream from melty tubs rather than looting the Apple store and violating each other at knifepoint down pitch-black alleys.

You won’t be surprised to hear that New Soul is doing rather well in the iTunes chart. Well done to Apple: using an advertising campaign to sell you products and then selling you the raw materials used to create said advertising campaign when they’re done. Go to the top of the class.

Much of Yael Naim & David Donatien is the kind of thing that people about to start a degree in business management might listen to in their gap year. For them and their friends, it could even be the album of the summer. And, more to the point, it’s the sort of thing that they’ll still be listening to when they land that prestigious graduate placement at the Luxembourg head office of some global financial corporation or other. Well, if you only have 15 CDs’ worth of material rattling around in your 160GB iPod you tend to stick with what you know.

It’s not 100% awful. Whilst a hefty tranche of the album can only be labelled with any honesty as bastard yuppie coffee-table chill music, Naim’s cultural background and influences (French, Israeli, Tunisian) raise the standard a little on some of the tracks. She sings around half of it in Hebrew, which sounds mercifully alien to unaccustomed ears and adds some much-needed soulfulness and character to the watery pan-global folky backing. At times her phrasing recalls Jeff Buckley, though admittedly not at his best. Think disc two of Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk.

The only area of real interest is a cover of Britney Spears‘ Toxic, slowed down to a snail’s pace and given the Portishead treatment, resulting in an enjoyably spooky and atmospheric alternative to the original. Shame, but this isn’t enough to salvage the whole from the Starbucks stereo system and the inevitable ad agency bidding wars for the remaining meat on the carcass.

Bland and uninspiring: a soundtrack for the lives of people who don’t really like music very much.


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