originally published here
Yelle occupies an uncertain space in the pop world. Despite writing entirely in their native tongue, the French trio has garnered a small but devoted following in the U.S. with their snappy brand of electropop. It begs the question whether they’d ever take that linguistic leap to English in order to speak to this fanbase. Though the lyrics are still in French on Yelle’s third effort, Complètement fou (which translates to Totally Crazy), the band does take a leap towards a more universal “pop” sound to mostly successful ends, but the final product is something of a mixed bag.
For Complètement fou, Yelle have enlisted the help of super producer Dr. Luke, who’s known for his Grammy-nominated work with Katy Perry. The results are what you’d expect: the new songs sound polished and professional, intermittently sparkling with Dr. Luke’s sheen and Yelle’s personal touch. Album highlight “Ba$$in” features vocalist Julie Budet rapping in a manner similar to her early work, all insouciance and wry humor, but the fresh house production updates it for 2014. However, the album sags when Dr. Luke et al.’s supplied beats clash with Budet’s vision by softening her edges. “Florence en Italie” and “Un jour viendra” sound particularly bland, the instrumentals resembling the nondescript songs that peppered the back half of Katy Perry’s last album Prism, on which Dr. Luke was a prominent collaborator.
For the most part, though, Budet sidesteps this issue by bringing her strong personality to the songs, as on the sleek night drive of “Moteur action”: the album’s sole English word, “Whatever!” gets the abandon-free delivery it deserves. There’s also the stellar title track, whose chorus pits Budet’s sharp-tongued lines against a high-pitched cry of the title. While the lyrics should delight any Francophone, perhaps Complètement fouwants to imply that language shouldn’t be a barrier. The lovely closing track “Bouquet Final” bears this out, its heaving bass lines tossing Budet’s tiptoeing vocals around. Sure, it might be nice to know what the song is about (throwing oneself hedonistically into love, fittingly), but the music more than communicates that effectively.
I continue to not get Tove Lo, and her debut Queen of the Clouds doesn’t help matters. Nearly every song is built around hinting at the same self-destructive behavior without going into any specifics about real danger or harm while also displaying an enormous self-pity that is less believable than it is tiring. Queen of the Clouds reminds me of those kids in college who simultaneously brag and ask for pity because they got trashed last night and are too hungover to get any work done now and it’s already Sunday afternoon oh my goddd.
It doesn’t help that the sonic palette for the whole thing consists of the same shade of gray. Drums plod along, reverb is piled on without abandon, synth pads drone. Soporific doesn’t begin to describe it. Tove Lo can be a compelling vocalist, but she’s in need of something less dour (see: “Strangers”) to convince me more.