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Import Zone | column | Lollipop

Import Zone

by Michael McCarthy

Not that her longtime fans were hoping for this, but Anna Vissi, Greece's answer to Madonna, has released an English-language album. Thus far it's only available as an import from Greece, but since it's in English, one would think she's plotting to conquer the world. Or at least Europe. But is the disc any good? Well, she does a fine job singing Lara Fabian/Celine Dion type mainstream pop songs, and ballads in the case of "Still In Love With You" and "Kick The Habit," but the material and production are so average, they fail to impress. Still, her rendition of Kylie Minogue's recent hit "On A Night Like This" is a sweet enough guilty pleasure, and her full-on dance cover of the Kiss classic "I Was Made For Lovin' You" is destined to be an international club favorite.

And while we're on the subject of international pop divas, I should confess that I've become something of a Sarah Brightman fan recently. It all started when I heard her cover of Hooverphonic's "Eden," which she actually named her breakthrough album after. The production wasn't as intriguing as Hooverphonic's, but there was something about her voice. It was as though I was hearing the song performed by a ghost and it was precisely that gloominess that made the album a favorite and prompted me to buy other Brightman albums. And since this column is entitled Import Zone, I must tell you about Fly, her 1996 album, which has yet to see release in the States even though many feel it's her best. With its dark cover and song titles like "Ghost In The Machinery," "The Fly," and "Murder In Mairyland Park," I knew it was going to show the dark side of Brightman I'd grown to love before I'd even listened to it. The surprise was that some of the songs are musically her most upbeat, pop-flavored to date. The highlights are the duets, "How Can Heaven Love Me" with a Bono-sounding Chris Thompson, and "Something In the Air" with Tom Jones (yes, that Tom Jones, who's shockingly become very hip in Europe again after releasing a CD of duets entitled Reload that has him singing with Portishead, The Cardigans, and other cool cats). Both songs get inside your head and stay there as any effective pop song should, but the production is textured enough to keep you hearing them for the first time upon subsequent listenings. Brightman's recent album, La Luna, is a haunting gem, but Fly is that and so much more and I can't recommend it enough.

I caught the first two nights of Vanessa Paradis' six sold out March performances à L'Olympia à Paris, and they were well worth all the rain I endured. (It would seem all that rain one always sees falling in London in the movies vacations à Paris in March.) She performed at the intimate venue with seven extremely talented and versatile musicians who often switched instruments during the show. (Some songs had a few of the fellows contributing percussion, others had two on keyboards, etc.) Most of the songs were performed with a stand up bass as well as trumpet and sax. The horns have always made appearances on her albums, but some of the songs, particularly early hits "Marilyn & John" and "Joe Le Taxi," were essentially rewritten. The lyrics remained the same and the melody was only slightly altered, but the music was the mother of reinvention - you basically watched a jazz band cover Vanessa Paradis hits, except that Paradis herself was singing. Not that this was a bad thing. On the contrary, it sounded amazing. And the renditions of the songs from the recent album, Bliss, were faithful to those on the album. Interestingly, the song that was arguably tinkered with the most significantly was "Sunday Mondays," which originally appeared on the self-titled disc Lenny Kravitz wrote and produced for her. It was still the sort of sticky-sweet song you either love or hate, but the music was slower during the verses and faster during the chorus and the keys almost gave it a music box sound during the intro. Here's hoping they release a live album, though I don't think we need to keep our fingers crossed because whenever a major star of the French music world tours, a live album follows. Always. Usually a double live album. (Hey, it could be more excessive; look at all those live Pearl Jam discs cluttering up your local record store's shelves.)

And speaking of double live albums... Mylène Farmer's Mylenium Tour is a two CD set recorded during her 1999 tour. The Mylenium Tour video seems to have been filmed at the Paris Bercy shows, though the credits of the video and album fail to say for sure. Unfortunately, the discs don't sound as vibrant as the concerts I attended did. The mix just isn't right, to my ears. It's like ice cream with too much air in it, a void existing between Mylène's voice and the musicians who backed her. (During "Désenchantée" the clapping of the audience is almost as loud in the mix as the drums.) It's not awful, but I much prefer her two prior double live albums, En Concert and Live à Bercy, which sound so superb that some naysayers don't think they're live concert recordings.

When I attended Mylène Farmer's concerts, there was no opening act. It was explained to me by several Parisians that nobody would dare open for her, because she's so popular that the audience wouldn't tolerate an opening act. (Apparently she had opening acts on early tours and somehow the audience persuaded them to get off the stage à toute vitesse.) Vanessa Paradis is arguably as popular as Farmer, perhaps even more, so I was surprised to find that a fellow named Raphael was opening for her. (That she spoke to the audience from backstage over the sound system when the venue went dark and said some kind introductory words apparently persuaded people to be nice; my French isn't perfect but it almost sounded like she was begging everyone to be.) I'm quite glad he did though. Discovering his music, which was a lot more rock than pop, was one of the highlights of my trip and I recommend his disc, Hotel de l'univers, to fans of such French rock acts as Noir Désir, Autour De Lucie, and Louise Attaque. For those not familiar with them, I'd describe his sound as Foo Fighters (for the sharp yet melodic guitar work) meets Manic Street Preachers (for the haunting melodies).  

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