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Utopie d'Occase

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Zebda scored a major summer 2000 French hit with the ragga-propelled, jump-up-and-celebrate "Tomber la Chemise," and it was a double-edged sword for the Toulouse group. Not from pressure to duplicate the success, but from the political group's own desire to avoid being viewed as a mere pop band with nothing substantial to say. But Utopie d'Occase may tip the scales too far the other way in continuing Zebda's trend toward a more minimal sound since the hard-hitting Le Bruit et l'Odeur. Not that much remains of the dance-inducing rhythms that made its blend of ragga, rock, and rap so inviting -- the punch of the music is largely scaled back to serve as a backdrop for Magyd Cherfi's lyrics. It's not too apparent on the stately "L'Erreur Est Humaine," while "J'y Suis J'y Reste" brings in a French accordion feel and gets lively at the end with drums double timing underneath an Arab string melody. More mournful French atmosphere arrives with the single-string guitar lines, controlled drums, and accordion of "Mêlée Ouverte," but "Sheitan" generates some intensity with a rock arrangement and tag-team vocals. "Ç Famille" brings back melancholy strings, acoustic guitar, and a lyrical focus before "La Fête" kicks in with haunting keyboards and vocals before shifting to AC/DC-style crunch chords. But just when the lack of any skank factor gets oppressive, Zebda rediscovers it (paired with accordion) on "Goota Ma Différence" and actually gets celebratory on the reggae-inclined "Le Bonhomme Derrière." The hidden track at the end of "Le Répertoire" is classic ska à la the Skatalites, but Zebda may have blown it by waiting so long to revert to this side of its music. Utopie d'Occase is good but the melodic and lyrical emphasis hurts, since there's hardly any recourse to that universal element of unrestrained body rocking to compensate for a lack of French fluency.

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