Sometimes, a language barrier just doesn’t matter. Sometimes, it’s plainly obvious just what the intent of a band is without having to get the lyrics. Sometimes, it’s painfully clear that regardless of whether that band is singing in French, Spanish, English or Klingon, knowing what the words mean simply isn’t going to make the music any better.
Enter the Parisian band Prototypes, with their American self-titled debut on Minty Fresh Records.
Prototypes actually have two albums out in France, and Prototypes is a combination of the two, something of a best-of-so-far with an attitude geared toward gaining American audiences. It doesn’t exactly work, not precisely because Prototypes’ music isn’t good (because it is, though it’s not really great), but more because of the way Prototypes was compiled.
Tout le Monde Cherche Quelque Chose à Faire (Everyone’s Looking for Something to Do) and Mutants Mediatiques (rough translation: Media Mutants) are Prototypes’ first two albums, and that they were actually conceived as albums is important, for there’s one trait that those two discs have that Prototypes does not: brevity. Prototypes breaks 44 minutes, while Tout le Monde… is just under 40, and the more recent Mutants Mediatiques isn’t all that much more than 30. Both of the proper albums have 11 songs, while Prototypes has 14. These may seem like trivial details, especially to those always looking to get more music for their money, but the type of music that Prototypes traffics in is a type that can grow wearisome rather quickly, where brevity can be a virtue more than a setback.
And what type is that? It’s sort of electro-clash dance-punky synth-based happy music. That is, it’s loud, it’s simple, it’s highly synthetic (though guitars occasionally appear), and you can dance to it. It even features copious use of handclaps, which ups the fun factor exponentially as far as I’m concerned. All of this is good, except that there’s one final ingredient, that being the voice of Isabelle le Doussal (known here as “Bubble Star”) on vocals. Yes, she is quite energetic, that much is obvious, and it’s quite a bit easier to get excited about music that you can sing along to. The thing is, you won’t be doing much singing along with Prototypes. Mostly, you’ll be yelling. Because that’s just what Ms. Bubble Star is doing. She’s yelling (albeit tunefully) in my ear, over and over again, shouting slogans in French that my high school French education can actually understand, not that it’s helping me enjoy the shouting.
The formula works for a little while—“Je ne Te Connais Pas” is bouncy and funky with some fresh sample work holding down the fort along with some why-the-hell-not fuzz bass. The Bubble Star shout is even mostly in tune here, portending good things for the songs to come. “Médicalement” and “Gentleman” are decent enough numbers, particularly the latter, which features a nice folk-with-a-dance-beat sort of aesthetic. The album peaks, however on the energizing “Danse Sur la Merde” (which I believe actually means “Dance to the Shit”, though the literal translation actually says “Dance On the Shit”), where Bubble Star is at her confrontational best, telling her audience that “Everybody’s looking for something to do / So dance to the shit that comes on the radio”. It’s an absolutely huge production, and everything that comes after it can’t help but sound like so much abrasive noise. Not even a couple of detours into synth-pop can come off as better than trite.
This is a shame, given that on their own, some of the better tracks reside on the latter half of the disc—“Totale Paranoia” is fun and hilarious (“I’m afraid of my friends! / I’m looking for an exit! / Why? It’s TOTAL PARANOIA!”), as is “Who’s Gonna Sing”, where some big beefy male vocals play a cute call-and-answer with Bubble Star. Still, getting to those tracks proves difficult. It must have been a bit painful, trying to figure out which tracks to include on Prototypes and which tracks to leave to the original albums. Regrettably, all it might have taken to make Prototypes a punchy, successful American debut is a little bit of fat-trimming. As it is, the album’s cute, but a bit of a chore.
Prototypes - Danse Sur La Merde (Live)