Originally released in France as Mais où Sont Passées les Gazelles back in 1984, Zulu Rock is the re-release of Lizzy Mercier Descloux's third and, for many, best album, with a variety of alternate tracks -- sung in French, often with different titles from the originals -- added to the reissue. Some years before Paul Simon scored both attention and protest for his Graceland album, Mercier Descloux had arguably not only beaten him to the punch but had created a more exuberant and fascinating record -- Simon's studied ruminations can have their place, but Mercier Descloux, simply put, actually sounds like she's having fun. A quote from ZE Records' Michel Esteban -- "this South African music reminded us, as incredible as it may sound, of the Velvet Underground" -- sums up how easily Zulu Rock's blend comes together, rejecting exoticism in favor of kinship and play. The immediate, instant swing of the opening "It's All My Imagination" -- which itself recalls Mercier Descloux's unfulfilled dream of wanting to bring her South African collaborators to Louisiana for a Cajun collaboration -- sets the tone for the album beautifully. From there, Mercier Descloux and company are off to the races, with the familiar, sweet tone of highlife guitar, the loping, energetic bass and beats, and the dramatic, beautiful backing vocals filling the mix in a hyperactive but never totally chaotic overdrive. Hearing Mercier Descloux's lovely voice sweetly moving through the words of "Abyssinia," the brilliantly titled "Dolby Sisters Saliva Brothers," and "Queen of Overdub Kisses" is just flat-out marvelous. "Mais où Sont Passées les Gazelles?," a French hit single, captures the overall blend in excelsis, but no less notable is the strutting beauty of "L'Eclipse," the pure boulevardier swing of "Les Dents de L'Amour," or "Wakwazulu Kwezizulu Rock," with a descending horn part in the chorus to die for. Perhaps only labelmate Kid Creole could have come up with something so unique as this at the time, so embracing and full of life.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett