Sunday, October 16, 2016
Atlantic 50 857
In the 1960s most of France Gall's best songs were written by Serge Gainsbourg. In the 1970s she married songwriter Michel Berger and began recording only his compositions. I don't think Berger was in Gainsbourg's league as a songwriter, but I think you can make a case that his work was more compatible with Gall as a performer as demonstrated by this record. The album opens with "Tout pour la musique" which describes people who are obsessed with music. As a music fan, I find it a little offensive, it makes fans sound like zombies or drones although the overall tone of the song is positive about music. The song has a reggae-style rhythm and a catchy chorus. Gall sings the song wonderfully particularly in the improvised section that closes the song. It is easily my favorite track on the album. "Les accidents d'amour" is about wanting to find love and happiness in the short time that we are alive. The song begins with a dramatic piano intro from Berger before slipping into a more mellow groove that again features a reggae-inspired rhythm track. Gall sweetly croons the song giving it a pronounced pop flavor. "La fille de Shannon" is about an Irish girl who loves with great passion. Gall's girlish vocal and the sugary pop sound of the music remind me of her 1960s work although Berger's arrangement is a lot more elaborate and artistic than was typical with those songs. "La prière des petits humains" describes the desire of people throughout a strife-torn world to live free from the chaos and violence inflicted on them by their fellow humans. The song rocks with a surprisingly funky sound in the guitar riff that drives it as well as the chunky rhythm line. Gall's vocal is bit too precious to deliver the bite in the lyrics and musical arrangement. "Résiste" urges the listener to resist a complacent, mundane existence, and to prove that we exist by actively seeking love and happiness. The song is disco-flavored rock with an effectively urgent vocal from Gall that is one of her best performances on the record. It is another one of my favorite cuts. "Amor también" offers a bland perspective on life which is seen as being alternately good and bad. I guess the point of the song is to persevere and seek love. The song has a reggae/world music sound to it and an ultra-poppy chorus. It is a bit too sugary for my taste, but Gall's terrific vocal makes it listenable for me. "Vahiné" is about a Polynesian woman who is encouraged by her father to follow her heart and find love. The song continues in the reggae vein with a relaxed vibe that suits its subject. "Diego, libre dans sa tête" discusses a political prisoner who is free in his mind. The music is dramatic and inspiring but although Gall's vocal is very pretty, I find it unconvincing. "Ceux qui aiment" suits her voice better and she delivers a strong performance. The lyrics contrast lovers with those who fill the world with turmoil and cruelty. The music alternates between the melancholy, gentle sound of the verses and the robust, punchy sound of the chorus giving the album a dynamic finish. I enjoy this record but I find it a bit dull compared to Gall's work with Gainsbourg. The songs are intelligent and well-crafted. Berger's humanism and romanticism reflect my persepective far more than Gainsbourg's cynicism and provocateur mentality, but I also find his songs rather monotonous and obvious particularly over the course of an entire album. We all know that love is good and life can be hard, no need to belabor the point. The album lacks the frisson and dialectical tension of some of those classic Gainsbourg recordings but Gall does sound happy and comfortable singing Berger's work. Her singing throughout the record is first rate and she displays lots of feeling and verve in her performances. Her voice makes the album worthwhile for me. Recommended to Francophile Cat Stevens fans.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship
My belated tribute to the late Paul Kantner. This was his first solo album, despite the co-credit this group bares little resemblance to the group Kantner formed later in the decade that shared the moniker Jefferson Starship. I've admired Kantner for many decades. I became a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane in my early teens just after the band had broken up. I liked the first few Jefferson Starship albums as well. I picked this record up in the early 1980s. It is a reissue, original pressings were gatefold albums. I didn't like it too much at first, but that has changed through the decades and now I prefer it to the post-Marty Balin Airplane and Jefferson Starship albums as well. Kantner gets top billing on the record but it is very much a collaborative effort with musical and songwriting support from his bandmates most notably Grace Slick. The album also features other members of the Bay Area rock aristocracy including support from the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service as well as David Crosby and Graham Nash. The album begins with "Mau Mau (Amerikon)" by Kantner, Slick and Joey Covington. It is an anti-establishment diatribe about fighting the power with sex, drugs and rock and roll. It takes pointed jabs at Reagan and Nixon and would have fit very nicely on the Airplane's "Volunteers" album. This hard rocking raucous song is the track on the album that sounds the most like classic Jefferson Airplane which is probably why it is also my favorite song on the album. The album makes an abrupt change in tone with a cover of Rosalie Sorrell's "The Baby Tree" which is a light-hearted song about an island where babies grow on trees. The song just features Kantner singing and playing banjo. Kantner's "Let's Go Together" is another anti-establishment song about hippies banding together to "wave goodbye to Amerika" and found their own idealistic society which is the main theme of the album. The song continues in the folkie vein of the previous tune with Jerry Garcia taking over on banjo. The song is given extra propulsion by Slick on piano and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Slick duets with Kantner on the song. It also would have fit well on "Volunteers" and is another one of my favorite tracks. Side one concludes with "A Child is Coming" by Kantner, Slick and Crosby. The song was presumably inspired by the impending birth of Kantner and Slick's daughter China and expresses Slick's wish not to "carry the government's child." They want to get back to nature to escape the indoctrination process of "Uncle Samuel." This is another folk-style track and with Crosby joining Slick and Kantner on the vocals it reminds me of Crosby, Stills and Nash which is not necessarily a compliment, although the three part vocal harmonies are very striking. My favorite part of the song is Jack Casady's thunderous bass lines. The second side of the album is a suite of songs entitled "Blows Against the Empire." The first song is Slick's "Sunrise" in which she tells "civilized man" to go ahead and die since he is not needed or wanted anymore. Slick sings the song like she is calling the faithful to prayer. She double tracks her vocal making it more powerful. Again Casady is the star of the song with his dazzling bass work. "Hijack" is by Kantner, Slick, Marty Balin and Gary Blackman. It anticipates that a starship capable of traveling through the universe will be built by 1990 and urges the counterculture rebels to hijack it and escape to another world. Slick and Kantner duet on the song which is largely driven by Slick's dynamic piano work. "Home" is a brief abstract instrumental attributed to Kantner, Phill Sawyer and Graham Nash (it really took 3 guys to come up with a 37 second song with no melody?) Kantner and Crosby wrote "Have You Seen the Stars Tonite." The song takes place on the stolen starship and is a paean to a hippie utopia. This hypnotic and slightly trippy song is again driven by Slick's piano with additional instrumental color provided by Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. It is my favorite track on side two. "X M" is another short abstract instrumental credited to Kantner, Sawyer, Garcia and Mickey Hart. It sounds like a spaceship taking off. The concluding song, "Starship," is by Kantner, Slick, Balin and Blackman and it again encourages the hippies to escape on the starship. The song is a stirring rocker featuring some Grateful Dead-like guitar runs from Garcia and more compelling piano work from Slick. Slick and Kantner duet on the song with harmonic support from Crosby and Nash. The song just peters out at the end, but otherwise gives the album a dramatic finish. Although Kantner deservedly gets top billing, Grace Slick's contribution to the album is immense. It would be much less interesting without her. In many respects the album can be seen as part of a counter-culture trilogy with the Airplane's "Volunteers" and Slick and Kantner's "Sunfighter" which I think represents the peak of Slick and Kantner's creative partnership. When I first heard this album I dismissed it as hippie hokum, but I think that is unfair. Kantner was a true believer and though I find his ideas dubious at best, I admire his passion and commitment. The hope and innocence in this record touches me. I think the album holds up better than a lot of the other political music from that era. Musically it is superb, it may lack the fire of the Airplane when it was in full flight, but I still find it invigorating and captivating. Rest in peace Paul Kantner, in my mind you will always be flying high. Recommended to fans of "Volunteers" and "Sunfighter."