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Love, yes, but hatred too

[Originally published 1994 |
Updated here 1999.06.20

I just finish declaring that "I have always hated French music" and here I am writing about a group from France, Les Rita Mitsouko.

Occasionally compared to the Eurythmics, to whom they are demographically equivalent (female singer, male musician), Les Rita Mitsouko don't have anything like Annie and Dave's pop sensibility and fecund capacity for churning out hit singles. You may have run across "Andy" and "C'est comme ça" from The No Comprendo (1986); those were the French duo's only videos to get (sporadic) airplay on MuchMusic. Don't let the catchiness of those two songs fool you; Les Rita Mitsouko are not a singles band. To appreciate them, you absolutely must sit through an entire album.

If you do so for the brand-new Système D, you may notice how the songs therein mirror the stages of an enjoyable Saturday night out with the boys/girls/boyfriend/girlfriend. In fact, they could function as a soundtrack for that night out as different tracks from Système D follow you around town. There's "Au fond du couloir" to start off with, where Catherine Ringer's grandiose, echt-French singing perfectly matches the top-o'-the-world feeling of dressing yourself up. "Get Up, Get Older" – one of Système D's three English songs – is a low-key number that could play in the background of a cab ride to the local Chinese vegetarian restaurant, where the peppy "Y'a de la haine" will be just right as backdrop for spirited conversation.

"La steppe" and "Les aimants" suit dancing cheek to cheek, and so on all the way through to "Modern Baleine," which draws your evening to a close. You will hum its slow, mournful tones as you sit quietly and drink your fifth Earl Grey of the (still early) morning, too blitzed to talk anymore and wondering if you'll make it to bed before sunup.

"Y'a de la haine" will do what "Andy" and "C'est comme ça" did and lead potential Mitsoukoids astray. It's a fab song, pop in the best sense, with the incomprehensible lyrics (when will singers learn to enunciate?), catchy, singable chorus, and killer video required by great pop songs. The video introduces a filmic effect that desiccated American video directors are sure to steal the next time they're doing lines in a condo in the septième arrondissement and happen to espy MTV Europe out of the corner of an eye: A massive hand extrudes through the lamé backdrop, grabs Catherine Ringer King Kong-style, then retraces its steps. Look for analogues thereof in Metallica, Stone Temple Pilots, and Whitney Houston videos within a year.

In "Y'a de la haine," Ringer and cohort Fred Chichin employ the concept of selling love (and haine, or hatred) as a metaphor for the necessity of recycling and reducing our reliance on material goods. Gosh, how socially relevant. But who cares? It's danceable and fun. Trouble is, it sticks out like a sore thumb on the moody album, which cries out to be experienced wholistically. It's a soundtrack for a movie as yet filmed – the movie, that is, of a night in your life.


I suppose it's encumbent on me as homosexualist music writer to mention Rush's latest single, "Nobody's Hero." In this arching, semiautobiographical number, Geddy Lee tells us of a friend and mentor from his youth who used to invite him to parties where Lee would find himself "the straight minority." Ah. I get it. While even a passing homo mention is admirable in principle, we are talking about Rush here, the most established Canadian rock act – 19 albums, hugely influential, sales in the millions, fans everywhere, etc. Given Rush's commercial inviolability, "Nobody's Hero" takes only a modest risk (indeed, it follows a trail cleared by Living Colour, Ice-T, Terence Trent D'Arby, the Rheostatics, and others) and merely represents expected maturity.

The gay stuff is apt to overshadow the song's well-wrought video, in which various walking archetypes (a female austronaut, a woman in evening dress, a male cop) are symbolically transformed into "Nobody's Heroes" by wearing masks made of cloth or paint. In reprises later on, megaconfetti the size of dollar coins flutters in slomo onto these Heroes, as if to show how thpecial they really are. A tad obvious, admittedly, but so were the a(nima)llegories in Art Spiegelman's Maus, the wartime-memoir comic book/CD-ROM in which mice stood for Jews and cats for Germans, with Jews passing as Gentile shown wearing cat masks. In Maus as in the video, the simplicity of the symbolism works.

So can we maybe have a director's cut that entirely removes the annoying cutaways to the band banging away at their instruments in some studio? I'll take confetti and painted faces over hoary late-30s rock millionaires anyday. But you know how I am.