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Import Zone | column | Lollipop
by Michael McCarthy
Bliss is French chanteuse Vanessa Paradis' long-awaited fourth studio album - her first studio effort in eight years - and the title could not sum it up better. Whether you liked her 1992 self-titled English language album produced by Lenny Kravitz or the two French language discs that preceded it, Bliss is sure to please. Three tracks in English, 10 in French, truly not a bad one in the bunch. Easily the best French pop album released in 2000 and, to be sure, this is not teen pop (unlike much of her earlier work) but delightful art pop. Paradis has learned to write both lyrics and music during the past several years and co-wrote most of the songs this time around. The disc reunites her with Franck Langolff, who wrote the music for her first two albums, on two tracks including the first single, "Commando." She's also reunited with Kravitz camp producer and wurlitzer mastermind Henri Hirsch on "La La La Song," arguably the album's highlight. The way Paradis' sugary vocals glide through the halcyon music on that track is truly delightful. (I should also note that actor Johnny Depp, her boyfriend, co-wrote two tracks and plays guitar on another.) Lyrically, Bliss is a 70/30 mix of poetic and sarcastic. "Commando" could be a mockery of modern-day rebels or a call for them to free Cuba, depending on how you look at it. Apart from the French language, it's those double entendres that were missing from the Kravitz album and it's nice to see her back in such waters.
Lio is another French chanteuse who has recently released a long-awaited album. Je Suis Comme Ça is her first studio album since 1996's Wandatta, but it's not very good. The problem is that it's poetry put to music, literally, being that it's Lio "chante Prévert." As such, it's much more likely to please fans of the poet than Lio's longtime fans. Then again, many Prévert fans will probably cry blasphemy. Lio has been releasing albums since she was a teen (during vinyl's final ruling days) and she remains très populaire, but her fans deserve better. Especially since many hated Wandatta for being so experimental with songs ranging from under two minutes to nearly 10 minutes. (That said, I much prefer the already out-of-print disc over her early Bananarama-style fluff - and certainly over Je Suis Comme Ça, though even that is superior to some of her silly early material like "Le Banana Split.")
Outside Castle is the fifth album by Korea's H.O.T. and what a disappointment it is. Many have long referred to the High-five Of Teenagers as Korea's boy band, but they used to release diverse, groundbreaking albums. O4 [I yah!] was one of strongest experimental discs I've ever encountered with songs heavier than anything Metallica has done in years and ballads that might excite Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Unfortunately, 5 is mostly generic-sounding ballads and fails to try anything new, even when it gets to its stronger tracks like "Natural Born Killer" and "Abandoned Children." That one of the forgettable ballads, entitled "My Mother," is based around a sample of Wham's "Careless Whisper" should sum up how sad it is. All hope is not lost though... They recently did the soundtrack for the animated Korean movie, Age Of Peace, which includes a pair of in-your-face techno-rock songs, "OP.T (Operation Takeover)" and "The Best." Even their score is enticing, making the disc a nice consolation prize for those of us wishing 5 were more like 04.
Tilt is Kahimi Karie's new 13-song album, released in Japan, and it's precisely what we've come to expect from her. Nearly-whispered vocals over soft, dreamy, often electronic beats. Languages on this release are English, French and Japanese, and you're sure to find yourself under her spell even when you don't understand it. After Björk, I'm convinced that Ms. Karie makes the most intriguing, original pop in the world. A few listens to the subtleties of "I Can't Wait For Summer" and "Do You Know The Time?" and you might be, too.
Kylie Minogue's latest, Light Years, has been released in nearly every country but the United States. I don't consider this any great injustice, however, since it's not the inspired disc her past two albums were. On those, she collaborated with such folks as Brothers In Rhythm and Manic Street Preachers for some of the decade's best pop, even doing the whole electronica thing before it had occurred to Madonna. If only Light Years were so artful. It's not the fluff of her first four albums (remember "Locomotion" from the first?), but more of a disco club music score than anything. "Kids," a duet with Robbie Williams, is fantastic. But the other songs Williams co-wrote for her would've been better served on one of his albums. She simply does not give "Your Disco Needs You" the sarcasm he must have had in mind, and it becomes a parody of a parody by default. Spend your money on Hits +, the new compilation released by the Deconstruction label. It contains all but one of the singles from the previous two albums ("Cowboy Style" is missing) plus some remixes, b-sides and previously unreleased tracks.