[4 November 2009]
First off, it rhymes with Jimmy.
Make no mistake, Sliimy makes extreme music. You won’t find it in the hardcore section of your local record store, though—it’s the other extreme. It’s unapologetically fey—the word ‘effeminate’ barely begins to describe it. Over the top is the starting point; the twee levels are turned up until the whole thing sounds like the inside of a skittle. Like all extremes, he’s a love him or hate him proposition, which is not a world removed from his American benefactor Perez Hilton.
This is not a new style of course; Marc Bolan portrayed a similar androgynous quality for a similar female pre-teen fanbase. What’s absent from Sliimy (and which Bolan had in spades) is any frisson of sexual energy. Girls may want to hang out with him, but more as a quirky little brother than an object of desire, which is not Sliimy’s fault, of course, but does make him less well rounded as an artist. More compelling is the mess of contradictions at the heart of Paint Your Face: a boy that sings like a girl. A Frenchman whose songs are sung in English with a mock Cockney accent. Upbeat songs about anorexia and homophobia.
If you know of Sliimy at all, it will be for one of two things: either his folky cover of Britney Spears’s “Womanizer”, or debut single and video “Wake Up”. Nothing else on the album has the immediacy of “Wake Up”, a wonky pop-art masterwork, bursting with hooks and sunshine reggae vibes. The guitars sound so bright they could be ukuleles, and coupled with the rainbow colours of the video, serve as a perfect introduction to Sliimy’s imaginary world.
The rest of the album comes across as a mix of Mika, Lily Allen, and Sliimy’s own pixie-ish gallic flair. Sliimy has mentioned in interviews his love of all things British, and while most of this attention has been focussed on his pop roots, songs like “Tic Tac” show his anglophilia stretching to the same kind of Kinks-derived rock as the Kooks or the Fratiellis. Some of these numbers also wouldn’t feel out of place on Sesame Street—I can’t hear “Everytime” without imagining flowers on a window ledge bobbing their heads in time. This is sunshine pop to be sure, but don’t stare directly at it, or else you might go blind. It sparkles and dazzles, seemingly made for commercials for tampons or Hyundai’s next compact model car.
The feminine comparisons don’t end with Sliimy’s singing voice (high and breathy) either; his lyrics talk of subject matter few men would be comfortable expressing. “You are so aggressive, possessive, but I’m fine”, begins the bluesy, finger-clickin’ “My God”; Kylie Minogue would have killed for some of these songs circa Impossible Princess. “See U Again” is an R&B chanteuse torch ballad, readymade to soundtrack the break-up in the next rom-com blockbuster. It’s a beautifully understated song and a charming end to an idiosyncratic album. That is, before the tacked-on “Womanizer” cover, which is certainly fun, and reveals the song to be a far more elastic and substantial composition than the original AutoTune showcase. It’s cute, but works much better as a YouTube viral than an album closer.
While the French have taken Sliimy to their heart, it will be interesting to see what the rest of the world makes of him. While Mika aspires to wide-screen Freddie Mercury dreams, Sliimy has his sights set a little lower. His next move will be critical. Will he dig his heels in on his second album and continue on this path? Or toughen up his sound? Either way, will his pre-teen audience stick with him or will they have moved on? And if it’s the pre-teens that will openly embrace him, I feel this album will also become a guilty pleasure to many old enough to know better (this writer included). In small doses, it’s the perfect tonic to a humdrum world.