Le Bruit et L'Odeur

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Zebda's second album is a marked advanced over L'Arêne des Rumeurs -- the latter is a very good debut, but the French band is more comfortable and assured in the studio setting here. The ney keyboard sample that starts several songs almost sounds like a muzzein calling the faithful to hear the word and the constant change-ups of musical elements in the arrangements show that Zebda is adding to and changing the form, not content with just doing raggamuffin en français. Magyd Cherfi's lyrics offer strong social critiques, but he's a street-wise storyteller who draws on experiences derived from life around him and is just as concerned with bringing the positive forward. The hometown ode "Toulouse" is a driving raggamuffin with the drums pushing hard behind the tag-team vocals, while "Ma Rue" (My Street) incorporates strings behind the speed-rapped vocal delivery. And "France II" and "Cameroun" celebrate "outsider" France, the former via a buzzsaw guitar riff that settles into a ska-reggae mix and the latter with a raw guitar hook and stabbing clavinet ragga. The title track is a well-constructed mini-epic, quoting musically from the guitar intro to Bob Marley & the Wailers' "Concrete Jungle" and lyrically from a speech by French Premier Jacques Chirac. Chirac seems to be talking about French family values, so it's pretty easy to assume whom he's implying as responsible for "the noise and the smell" in the city, as Pascal Cabero plays a nice acoustic guitar solo under it. Standout tracks are "Mon Pere M'a Dit...," with a menacing minimal riff before accordion and violin come in, and the excellent "La Faucille et le Marteau" digging at the hips with stabbing clavinet funks and a rock guitar roar even as Arabic ney samples and string flourishes sail overhead. But variety rules: "La Bete" is almost guitar-driven ragga; "Le Bilan" has an electric piano-driven, loping acid jazz feel; and keyboards soar off into dub effects over the bass anchor of "Taslima."

Despite the very occasional weak moment, this version of Le Bruit et L'Odeur shows Zebda's maturation and command of a wide range of resources. The Esan Ozenki version of Le Bruit et L'Odeur, which combines the best from this album and L'Arêne des Rumeurs, may still be the best overall introduction, but you won't go wrong with either of Zebda's first two French albums.

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