Shai No Shai

Human Condition

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Now if you were going to write a mock-Arabic song entitled "Caravan," you'd probably make it darn good so as not to embarrass yourself by comparison to Duke Ellington and his mock-Arabic masterpiece by the same name, right? Well, maybe this European trio never heard of Duke Ellington, because they open their debut album with their song by the same name, and the music and words are world-fluff. It's tempting to dismiss the group, fronted by proclaiming soprano Olga Helm as Kylie Minogue does worldbeat, and sometimes it's justified to do so. The title track for example, despite an auspicious techno opening, turns into a screed against synthetic fibers: "I find the people superficial. I find the food too artificial." The unintentional irony is almost too much to bear.

Still, while the lyrics can be pretty dopey and self-important, the music isn't too bad; it's a kind of generic Irish-English guitar-fiddle pop sound with an infusion of Arabic material, but the Arabic material isn't really Arabic. It's been filtered and distorted through countless mass-media incarnations until it's been reduced to a conventionalized set of pro forma gestures: cut to sand dune, play sweeping violin motif, cue Mr. O'Toole, let's roll. Verdict: It's just pop. Either enjoy the hooks and rhythms, or go find something else to listen to.

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