s there anything better than French synthpop? Please, don’t answer yet. How about French synthpop that covers some pseudo-gothic classics of the 1980’s? How about all of this for FREE? How about all of this for free and a BRAND NEW CAR!
Naphtaline brings you all of this and less. Specifically, the brand new car aspect is somewhat lacking. It seems unfair to hold that against the album though, as I made it up. Look on the bright side though; now you don’t have to explain to little Jimmy’s mother why her son has been cruelly mown down in the prime of his life by your dirty road-beast of death. By refusing the car, you’ve saved a child. Rejoice! Today doesn’t seem so bad after all, eh?
Point your happy smiles this way as I shamelessly mix the album running order around and present each track in an exciting ‘working up to the best one’ type fashion.
6 - "Three Imaginary Boys": Like all the tracks on Naphtaline, this is a cover. Like the majority of them it was originally recorded by artists who may be slightly annoyed if you described them as goths. And rightly so, as this was from The Cure’s freaky post-punk era. As mentioned, Celluloide are a synthpop band; which means each and every one of these covers sound a bit like your favourite Spectrum or Commodore 64 tune of yesteryear. Essentially, listening enjoyment can be measured as being directly proportional to how much of the Jet Set Willy theme tune you can humm to yourself. This one seems a bit rushed though, losing the nervy unease of the original in a curious race to get to the end.
5 - "Light From A Dead Star": Shoegazing shocker! Lacking the slow-burning majesty of the Lush version though, sadly. And whilst the detached female vocals bring a marvellously chilly edge to certain tracks, they just sound a bit bored here. The concept of light reaching earth from dying stars is one which will always yearn for a more ethereal touch.
4 - "Amoureux Solitaires": Confession time. I have no idea who wrote this. Fortunately, in today’s supercharged media environment answers are never far away and a quick jaunt on the hyper-mecha-info-bypass reveals that Lio are the group in question. On the whole it’s rather upbeat and jolly, but with all the lyrics being in French the seemingly cheerful melodies may be deceptive. Google informs me that one of these lines potentially says ‘A little plastic beauty to erase our rings of chemical pleasure’ though, which is easily enough to sneak it up to fourth place.
3 - "Happy House": The intro now sounds like the world’s most frantic game of Pong. Wherever John McGeoch is listening from, I hope he approves. The riff was always going to be impossible to top, so taking an unorthodox approach seems like a wise choice. Those icy vocals are used to far greater effect here too, giving a slight hint as to what Sioux might sound like if she ever attempted a French accent.
2 - "In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated": Amusingly pretentious title? Ahh, that’ll be a Dead Can Dance track then! There are some gentle cascading sounds on this which I find rather hypnotic. Despite the otherwise slightly harsh instrumentation, the track manages to maintain this rather dreamlike quality throughout. Mmm.
1 - "Alice": I didn’t have high expectations for this. Perhaps the overwhelming number of Sisters tribute tracks performed by dodgy-darkling bands has left me a bitter and cynical man. Pleasingly though, it emerged as my favourite by far. Turning the memorable riff into a Nintendo mating call turns out to be genius of the highest order, yet the bubbling malice of the original is still (somehow) fully retained. Hearing ‘Alice in her party dress,’ darkly exclaimed in heavily accented French and underplayed by a danceable synth beat, is a real joy. Believe me, I really didn’t ever expect to find myself writing that sentence.
A mixed bag, then. But one which you can delve into at your leisure as the whole album is available to download from the Celluloide homepage. Think of it as one of those lucky dips from a children’s Halloween party. Except without the chance of grabbing a half-chewed plastic spider by accident. And.. err.. more mp3-based, obviously.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2004-03-15