True concept albums are actually few and far between.
While it can be said that The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs For Drella were designed from the ground up, that’s not necessarily the case for equally mythical, yet composite, albums such as Bowie’s The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Diamond Dogs, or Lou Reed’s Berlin. In France, the genre established its pedigree in the 1970s with Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson and L’homme à tête de chou, then in the early 1980s with Léo Ferré’s L’Opéra du pauvre. Mélanie Chédeville’s Cri d’amour adds to this list of albums that tell a story through characters.
Cri D’Amour was produced by Rico The Wizzard in a seaside setting, which may explain its flowing, organic character – and the fact that it deviates from electronic music in spite of its title’s homophony with Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo (of Daft Punk fame) and Rico The Wizzard aka Éric Chédeville’s foundational French Touch label Crydamoure. This fact might not be so fortuitous since the name was, among other things, about the deep friendship between the two boys – and its brutal end, which was not without repercussions. Repercussions on the couple, then on Mélanie’s decision to make it on her own artistically.
Because it is all by herself that the violinist-by-training composed, wrote and arranged this collection of string-drenched songs that recall Jean-Claude Vannier’s work for Serge Gainsbourg. The latter would undoubtedly have been impressed by Mélanie’s fine-cut lyrics and melodies that are as raw as they are sophisticated, vocalized in a sprechgesang recalling his own. The deliberately retro palette, up to the bass sound so typical of 1960s English rock, betrays an artist indebted to the creator of Bonnie & Clyde and Initials B.B. through a sensual, clear tonality. Yet, polyrhythms borrowed from the late afro-beat legend Tony Allen, and the touches of guitar, piano, percussion and synthesizers distilled here and there by Éric and Mélanie, end up giving the whole affair a resolutely atemporal color.
“I am a fairly modest person,” she explains. “I wanted the songs on this album to be heard in different ways, according to each person’s sensitivity. I wrote this album during a period of great solitude and existential questioning. It tells the story of a couple in crisis, one that anyone could relate to. But it does not respect the chronology of events and mixes dream with reality.”
Some may find this album old-fashioned, which, far from being a flaw, is a credit to the fine musician that Mélanie is. Others will call it a charming album, which is not a bad way to describe it, provided that it is a powerfully relentless charm.