Cali

L' Espoir

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AllMusic Review by

It took a while for French singer Cali's career to take off, but once it was on, he certainly worked hard to make the most of it. He was 35 when he made his debut album, L'Amour Parfait, which became an immediate success in France in 2003. In the following five years, Cali released four live DVDs, the original soundtrack of a film in which he also starred, and two more studio albums. The third, L'Espoir, appeared in early 2008 and was typically very well received. It was touted as the most political of his albums, which should come as no surprise, considering Cali's openly leftist sympathies and the delicate social climate in France after Sarkozy's traumatic victory in 2007. Actually, like most of Cali's output, L'Espoir is evenly divided between two types of songs: the epic, enraged tirades about the social and political situation; and songs about badly turned-out love stories. Of the two, it is the latter that corresponds to the more effective and affecting side of L'Espoir, in particular "Sophie Calle N°108," by far the album's most memorable song. However, a few tracks ("Giuseppe et Maria," "Le Droit des Pères") manage to combine both the personal and the political -- which one could safely assume represents Cali's ideal of songwriting. At any rate, L'Espoir's most remarkable trait is Cali's decision to work with producers Mathias Malzieu (a member of French art rock band Dionysos) and Scott Colburn, who produced Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, a record the French press universally hailed as 2007's best, and which this album clearly attempts to re-create, for instance in the intro to the hit "1000 Coeurs Debout." Malzieu and Colburn's work shows in every track, as Cali's compositions are conspicuously adorned with a roller coaster of sounds and instruments that dramatically rises and falls throughout the song. On the other hand, Cali's vocal lines, song structures, and delivery always remain linear, giving this record the unmistakable air of a collection of standard singer/songwriter material put in the hands of savvy producers to toy with, rather than a homogeneous creative effort from both parties. For all of this sonic reinvention, the essence of Cali's music and persona remains pretty much unchanged. As a result, Cali fans will love L'Espoir, and those who are put off by his sometimes overblown rhetoric will not be won over by this effort. Olivia Ruiz guests in "Je Ne Te Reconnais Plus," and Waterboys singer Mike Scott (one of Cali's idols) appears on two tracks.

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