While Stereo Total has been busy re-releasing their albums in America, 2001’s Musique Automatique in mid-2002, and their late 1990s albums Oh Ah and Monokini in late 2003, it’s easy to forget that it’s been nearly four years since we’ve heard some brand new music from the highly talented, multilingual, Franco-German duo. Now six albums into their career, the girlfriend-boyfriend pair of singers/multi-instrumentalists Françoise Cactus and Brezel Göring have specialized in deceptively simple pop confections, simultaneously delivered with sincerity, facetiousness, and with punklike cheek, to the point where you’re sometimes unsure whether they’re serious or not. Led by the cheerfully girlish vocals of Cactus, Stereo Total have mined some of the best sounds of 20th century pop, incorporating ‘60s French chanson, the raw strains of ‘60s garage and ‘70s punk, the twitchy intensity of postpunk, the synth-heavy sounds of early ‘80s electro, and if that weren’t enough, even a bit of a mid-‘90s, Japanese Shibuya-kei influence. It all seems, on paper, at least, like it would be one hell of a mess, but there’s always been a cohesiveness to every Stereo Total record, as they easily shift styles from song to song. Hell, they do it so well, they can sneak in a song sung in Turkish without us knowing.
On the last album, the emphasis shifted from Serge Gainsbourg to Giorgio Moroder, as Musique Automatique placed heavy emphasis on retro synth sounds and electro beats, to the point where many were placing the album among the electroclash fad that was picking up steam during 2001 and 2002. While its uber-slick, synthetic production by Cem Oral worked well with Cactus’s and Göring’s compositions, the simpler, laid-back feel of Monokini and 1999’s My Melody was missing, and many fans will be very pleased to hear that the new album, Do the Bambi, marks a return to that earlier sound. While the CD is decidedly less ambitious, as the duo settle into a comfy Europop groove (not to mention the fact that they sing in only three languages, as opposed to Musique Automatique‘s five), Do the Bambi is not only musically their most consistent album in years, but also their most consistently good release in long while.
All of the qualities that make Stereo Total so darn charming are all here. There are the compassionate, yet wickedly catchy character sketches; “Babystrich” masks a grim portrait of a teen girl on the streets with a great falsetto vocal by Göring, while “Partymädchen Gefoltert”, translated as “Tortured Party Girl”, whimsically evokes the swinging London of the ‘60s. Also present are the flighty pieces of breezy pop comedy in the exhibitionist paean “I am Naked” (“That’s the way my mother made me, okay?”), and the hilarious, energetic “Hungry”, which contains an impassioned, double-entendre-laced rant by guest rapper Hawnay Troof. Of course, you’ve got to have plenty of movie references, and we get the fun “Cinémania” (in which they list dozens of their favorite film stars), “Orange Méchanique”, a tribute to the classic score for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and two enjoyable odes to Jean-Luc Godard’s film The Weekend (“Vive le Week-end”, “Tas de Tôle”). And what Stereo Total album would be complete without some adorable love songs? “Do the Bambi”‘s light synthpop is enhanced beautifully by Cactus’s coquettish vocals, the detached lover’s conversation of “Das Erste Mal” sounds like a conversation from an enigmatic French New Wave film, and “Les Lapins” is ridiculously sweet.
As good as the album is, it ends on an especially strong note. “Helft Mir” takes the synth tones of Kraftwerk and injects a more emotional quality, thanks to Cactus’s desperate pleas for help, and “Mars Rendez-vous” is arguably the best track on the album, a seamless marriage of synths and rock guitars, languidly propelled by a seductive, undulating bassline. After that, the off-kilter “Troglodyten” turns up the electro-funk considerably, and the synth-heavy cover (every Stereo Total album needs at least one great cover tune) of Nico’s Lou Reed-penned classic “Chelsea Girls ends things on an ethereally gorgeous note.
Few artists compose such likeable pop music as Stereo Total do, and although they take their own sweet time putting new music out, when they do get around to it, it’s always guaranteed to be of high quality, and Do the Bambi is no exception. To admit to not liking this band’s music is akin to cursing the sun for shining.
// Notes from the Road
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