Friday, March 04, 2005

Les Terribles CD Review


My brushes with French culture include narrowly getting out of French class my sophomore year of high school (I ditched it every day for two weeks until they placed me in German), reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, following the Tour de France every year, and viewing most of Truffaut’s films. I’ve never even met a French person, but I’m sure they exist. The media still runs stories about how they can’t stand the U.S. and why would the media ever want to make up enemies? I recall the story about Henry Ford II saying “I don’t like frog tires” after being told that one of his executives had put Michelin tires on a Mustang. So the animosity between our cultures is long lived, which is downright funny considering they helped us get free of the British and then our revolution inspired their own. If only old Henry could have heard Les Terribles blasting out of the Michelin wheeled Mustang, maybe his opinion of the French would have been better. This new Dionysus label release is pretty heavy on the French version of British Invasion era rock and roll, unless it’s just a joke perpetrated on your dear reviewer.

It is laid on a bit thick. A big Recorded In France emblazoned on the disc. The members are listed as chant – Rudie, guitare 1 – Fred, guitare 2 – Nicus, basse – Ivan, and batterie – Michel. That’s vocals, guitar 1, guitar 2, bass, and drums for you non-French speaking folks out there. Now how could a good old boy from Tennessee figure that out when he never went to French class? Well there is a French Broad just down Interstate – 40. It’s a river, not a woman so get your mind out of the gutter. I also used to know some Cajuns and they could cuss a black and blue streak of crazy patois. The members of Les Terribles are said to have come together after playing with Dutronic, Operation 5, No Talents, Wangs, and Les Synapses. All of the dudes, except for Rudie who’s a girl, look like Roy Orbison crossed with Dee Dee Ramone. The music is crude Sixties high treble hooks and ladders that doesn’t surrender to today’s fashions. It clings to the fuselage of backbeat British Spitfire raucous and roll.

The vocals are definitely French. Which is the only thing holding this back from garage band status. It’s not because I can’t understand what in the heck it is Rudie’s singing about most of the time. I love Bossa Nova and Samba and the words have no literal meaning for me, but they do sound good. The best songs on Les Terribles work despite being in French, but this does mean that you have to accept this album on its terms. You can’t look at it as mere novelty. Even the two instrumentals are in French you know.

Highlights of the disc are the jittery “Sauvages et cadides”, “Pourquot je pleure?” features a sharp bridge section, and “Tes yeux” with its syncopated kinky going to a go-go dancing in a steel cage vibe. “Trop sage” is a nice rollicking chugger of a tune – yes I can play like the Yardbirds and Stones, I think I can, I think I can indeed – that makes me think of trains. “Chante” is “I Can Only Give You Everything” in disguise. Les Terribles cover the Kinks with “La nuit le jour” in smashing fashion – best cover of the Kinks since The Pop did “I Need You”. ..and I bet you thought I was going to have the obligatory Van Halen reference. “Rosbeef attack” and “Froggies strike back” are the aforementioned instrumentals and there are hundreds of more songs included for a total of 14 tracks (math was never my strong subject) that rock with abandon.

Les Terribles
might not change your life, but maybe they can have the same impact on American high school French classes that Nena’s “99 Luftballons” had on my high school German class. Translation: lots of kids will be learning Les Terribles songs for extra credit. I just hope that if Les Terribles makes a video that Rudie shaves her armpits. Poor Nena sure caught hell from my German class back then for being natural.

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