The Strawberry Smell: Odorama

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By Jason Thompson

In France They Kiss on Main Street

WWithout going down the usual list of current pop acts from France, let me just say that The Strawberry Smell have indeed created something that sounds like a breeding ground between mod London and garage America. Sure, the guys in the band couldn’t help but feature themselves on the cover of the album in retro groovy space cadet attire with expected ‘70s typeface, but they can have that. The fact that they aren’t doing a musical rehash of the boogie generation is alone worth noticing.

They even managed to ditch their own accents and adopted a Brit pose, just like all those current American bands who want to be a little closer to their European neighbors. But here the old trick works for once, as the band cuts to the chase right off the bat with “Zensong #9”. Featuring a cascading array of acoustic guitars, old keyboards, and a nice bit of harmony, The Strawberry Smell come off as pleasant pop artifacts while being completely new. It’s amazing how the vestiges of the Sixties still infiltrate so many bands. But then, there were so many musical facets back then that were still relatively new. And hell, why give up on a classic style if it suits you well?

“Now I see the faith you’ve loaned to me/And now I know that’s why I love you so” goes a line in “Friends of Da Teenage”. It’s both telling and tongue in cheek. The pop stars may not always be blinded by the light, but in fact just may be leading us around. The phony star machine just another conjuring of their own. It’s a concept as old as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, or even the Who’s Tommy for that matter. It’s older than that, actually, but our friends on the other side of the Atlantic have always had a perverse attraction to such an idea as to write songs about it over and over. And here, the music slips, slides, and seduces. “Any of you have helped me to build my fashion”, coos lead singer Cyril Jean. And be sure to check out Jean’s Steppenwolf-like organ work on “Balthazar”. Undeniably the big rave-up of Odorama, the song rocks hard without any restraint. Some have said the track is weak because of that fact, but all I can say is how can you deny those bass lines? Granted, Jean’s vocals aren’t exactly the best here, but the music more than compensates for it, especially during the break where the guitars battle it out in funky, dirty classic rock mode. Shit, I haven’t heard a band get this beautifully reckless in a long time.

And be sure to listen to the other song with the funny title, “Lovag’s House of Light”. Once again, the bass work (courtesy of Olivier Vaillant) is incredibly fluid, working off of Jean’s synth bleeps to give the song its hook. It’s always nice to hear what I like to think of a McCartney-inspired bassist who plays long melodic lines and isn’t afraid to do so. It’s the bass that makes “Valentine’s Butterflies” stand out, along with the raging guitars and the vocal harmonies, and yes, Jean’s watery organ work again. It almost sounds like a weird-ass tune that would be featured in a new episode of Scooby Doo if they still were offering up their musical breaks in the middle of the show liked they used to.

All told, there’s lots to explore here on Odorama. Fans of Britpop or classic rock from the US and undoubtedly power pop fiends should enjoy this disc plenty. As I said, it’s retro-pop that works well because it isn’t relying solely on its cover art to get by. It’s certainly a nice change of pace, as there are the countless bands out there currently who are trying to do the very same thing, yet don’t have the quality songs to achieve their goal. Luckily The Strawberry Smell do have those songs, and they’re all right here for you to . . . oh yeah, take a big whiff of and . . . get down.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/strawberrysmell-odorama/