Louis Philippe

Jean Renoir

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For their second collaboration, Louis Philippe and Dean Brodrick relaxed the self-imposed "only vocals and piano" rule that governed the first, Rainfall, to the extent of admitting drums and guitars. Nevertheless, it's the lush vistas of multi-tracked voices that dominate an album that's frequently cinematic in terms of both scope and subject matter. Along with the album's title track, there's a song called "An American Friend" (actually inspired by John Ford's The Searchers), a version of the Ogden Nash/Kurt Weill song "Speak Low" (here rendered as "Tous Bas") from the musical One Touch of Venus, and "Vicky Page," a love song for the ballet-dancing heroine of The Red Shoes. The infectious "Nowhere Square," too, sounds as though it were written for a screwball musical comedy. Any listeners who got as far as sampling the album in a shop, however, might never have reached these delights, deterred as they may have been by the bizarre guttural chants of "Une Ile," a frankly disastrous choice for the opening track. Yet fears that the pair's avowed experimentalism might have led into murky waters are immediately dispelled by "Lazy English Sun," a slice of effortless sunshine pop that resurfaced, appropriately enough, on the Sunshine album. It's nevertheless Jean Renoir's darker songs that give the album its unique character, notably the three that feature telling vocal contributions from Microdisney's Cathal Coughlan -- "Hunters," "True Men," and "An American Friend." The latter in particular, an unsettling six-minute epic built around a swirling miasma of sampled voices, is one of Philippe's most remarkable creations, and light years removed from the candy pop for which he is still best known. The wistful "Vicky Page" -- with its spectral setting of synths and drum machine -- is another triumph of imagination over budget. For all the album's many pleasures, however, there remains a suspicion that, overall, Jean Renoir lacks the final degree of melodic finesse that characterizes Philippe's very best work. Perhaps its principal value, along with Rainfall, lies in the freedom both projects afforded Philippe to develop his skills as both composer and arranger in ways that would inform his later, less exploratory work.

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