Bonjour monsieurs y madamoiselles and pardon the intrusion, but there's another French revolution afoot -- a subtle one in the world of popular music. Unobtrusively yet effectively, a slew of interesting bands have been making their way onto the international music scene, artists like Air, Tahiti 80, Phoenix, Fugu, and now this talented trio from Nancy called Orwell.
If you like your music pleasant and orchestral and lush, then Following Days is a must hear. These 14 gentle songs display an intelligence and sophistication, managing to delicately straddle between seemingly disparate musical realms of retro baroque pop and modern electronica, yet also drawing on decades of classic pop traditions (from the 1960s Britpop and American chamber pop to 1980s new wave and beyond). The production is clean and professional, with impressive orchestral and string arrangements that make the end product sound more like a veteran band than a debut offering. Orwell's soft sounds are nostalgic yet new, strong on melody and harmony with an intriguing mix of styles that is definitely grown-up and always easy on the ears.
The three talented members of Orwell are Jérôme Didelot, Thierry Bellia and Alexandre Longo. While all three contribute to the songwriting, Didelot seems to provide the largest part, stepping front and center now after his wonderful backing work on Fugu's self-titled CD from 1999. Didelot and his fellow Orwellians seem fascinated by a variety of sounds and styles, but also understand that everything ultimately must still serve the song. Their self-proclaimed challenge "to make good music" is well met on Following Days, incorporating those various sounds and styles into a natural organic whole that is never less than sweetly soothing.
The CD opens with the infectiously horn-filled "Toutes les nouvelles parlent d'hier", a song that adheres to the standard pop formula of catchy chorus while surrounding it with truly sumptuous musical arrangements. Fellow countryman Mederic Gontier of Tahiti 80 adds guitar and synth to the track, while Fugu's Mehdi Zannad contributes backing vocals.
"Fear of Mars" shows the bi-lingual Orwell to be equally talented in English. Here, tasteful string arrangements are employed to heighten this all-too appropriate tale of modern dread of encroaching war/terror/unspoken horrors: "In too many skies we've seen / reasons to dive against the stream / Between too many lines we've read / Searching for something else to say / We're lost when we look up now / Something in us fears Mars".
Those pretty arrangements are the rule here, though placed against a more driving electronic bass beat in songs like "Une si belle aventure" and "Sans cesse". "Live On" diverges into soft electronica territory combined with a cabaret/lounge feel (and some lovely piano) in a song that is Proustian in the way it describes how pictures, melodies, and faces recall memories from long ago ("Why can't we live those days again?").
Similarly, the electronic elements and strings in "Seulement la foule" offer subtle improvements to the keyboard-based song, while "Comme ceux qui savent poser leurs cheveux dans un angle de lumiere" serves up the longest title and the most modern use of electronic elements alongside spoken lyrics. Another nice surprise here is Orwell's faithful cover version of the old Gilbert O'Sullivan chestnut "Clair" (one of those songs you remember the second you hear it).
It doesn't get any more beautiful than the lovely baroque instrumental bookends of "L'arrier-boutique" (divided into two short tracks here). "Devenir" is yet another wistful ballad whose beauty is enhanced by lush arrangements, while the soft beats of "A nous . . . " and the whole of "Des lendemains" are pleasantly entrancing. Fugu's Mehdi Zannad lends his production skills to the reprise of "A Nous . . . ", which is just as relaxing as the first, perhaps even more as re-translated into a pure instrumental.
All told, this is sweet music, exotic and refined, lush comfort pop for a rainy late afternoon or musical warmth by which to toast marshmallows aside a crackling fire. Explore the easy listening pleasures of Orwell's impressive Following Days and remember the new motto in international pop music: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!"