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The WILT Archive
Since I like to write, quite a few people have suggested I write a blog. But I’m not especially interested in writing about myself. I did enough of that in my book (A Cure For Gravity) and even that is as much about music as it is about me.
Writing about music is difficult, but I still find it interesting to try. So, once a month, I’m going to write a few words about a few things I’ve been listening to. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might even do some good.
I can't deny that almost all of my real musical heroes are dead, and I'm on record as saying, more than once, that I don't think we're exactly living in a musical golden age right now - and I find something good that's new to me, I don't care when it was made. Nevertheless . . .
STROMAE: Racine Carrée
I've been intrigued by this guy for a while, and since I've just spent some time in his native Belgium (an odd little country which I rather like) I figured it was about time I picked up this, his second album. Stromae (French backslang for 'Maestro', his real name is Paul Van Haver) checks a lot of boxes: biracial child of a Belgian mother and Rwandan father who was killed in that country's genocidal war; interesting-looking (to say the least); stylish in an original way (classically English colliding with colourfully African?); quite possibly gay but no one seems to know for sure; how could any progressive white hipster resist? He also, thanks largely to being ripped off (sorry, I mean 'remixed') by Kanye West, looks set to be the biggest thing to come out of Belgium since . . . who? Tintin? I mean, he's actually doing well in the USA, a country notoriously resistant to anyone singing in French, speaking in French, writing in French, being French . . . the average American doesn't really believe in foreign languages, he's vaguely aware that they exist, but he finds the concept disturbing and prefers not to think about it . . . but damn, here's this guy singing and rapping in French and he's just headlined Madison Square Frickin' Garden!
Try telling that same average American about the linguistic divide in Belgium, where Stromae is the first French-language artist to be huge in the Dutch-speaking north of the country since . . . who? As far as I know, Jacques Brel in the 1950s. Which is fitting, since Stromae has cited Brel as one of his biggest influences, along with Cuban and African music, all of which are apparent when you listen to his music.
Anyway, that's all facts and figures. What I find interesting about Stromae is the confidence, the power and the authority of his voice, his lyrics, and his vision; it's almost not credible, coming from someone who was 28 when this album was made, and sometimes looks like a delicate, androgynous 12-year-old. And making a bridge between the theatrical, melodic but part-spoken French chanson of Brel, and contemporary hip-hop, is a striklngly original coup, though not the only one Stromae has up his sleeve. Racine Carrée ('Square Root') is full of surprises, from the single Papaoutai, which is a madly catchy tune in any language, to Carmen, which quotes from Bizet's opera, to a homage to Cesaria Evoria (Ave Cesaria) to the segue from the edgy, almost violent Humain A L'Eau to a spooky ballad about the fear of illness and death (Quand C'Est?, or 'when (is it)?', which in French sounds like 'cancer'). I'm going to be following Stromae's career with interest. Just so long as he doesn't start singing in English.
By the time you read this, Adele's new album will have been released, and there will be no escape. There will be no remote Pacific island, no benighted Congo village, no igloo in Greenland, where it won't be on the radio every hour. The statistics will pile on top of the already staggering ones she amassed the last time around. The number of audiocassettes sold in Indonesia alone, if placed end to end, would stretch all the way to the planet Neptune, etc etc.
More power to her, I say. While one person sneers (on principle!) at popularity and embraces anything obscure, another does the exact opposite – and they're both wrong. Sometimes an artist comes along who is both popular and really good. What do you say to that, eh, you clever bastards?
I first heard this song in a supermarket in Antwerp and thought, that must be Adele's new single, it sounds pretty good. Two days later I heard it loud, in the back of a taxi, and I swear I had a lump in my throat by the time it ended. I've never been a fan of the Power Ballad as strenuously performed by the likes of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, or Mariah Carey. But Adele is different. How can I put it? She's not trying . . . she just is. She reminds me of Orson Welles. Bear with me here for a minute. Welles said in one interview that he realized early on, that for better of worse, he was a King Actor. Apparently there were, in the time of Shakespeare, actors who were known as King Actors because they had a certain stature, and charisma, and a natural 'bigness' – not just physical – that made them unsuited to smaller 'character' roles. Nor would they be convincing as either the villain of the piece or the Fool. They could play a good or a bad king, or a king with human flaws, but they had to be The King.
Adele is a Queen Singer, and I think what makes her so appealing is not originality (she's actually something of a throwback, and reminds me of Etta James mixed with a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald) but her realness: she really does have a huge voice and a huge talent, and she really does mean what she's singing, and this is just what she does. She's down-to-earth in a very English way. Those American divas all sound like they've been brought up, in true American style, to believe they are truly special, and the prettiest girl in the class, and if they only believe in themselves, and follow their dreams, they can be anything their hearts desire, grow up to be President, save the starving children of Africa, defy gravity, never die, blah blah blah, pass the barf bag. Whereas Adele says things like, I'd rather have lunch with me mates than go to a gym, and then she goes and sings her heart out and puts them all to shame.