Benjamin Biolay

La Superbe

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AllMusic Review by

Hailed as the wunderkind of a new generation of French songwriters, Benjamin Biolay has often divided opinion, as his undeniable talents are not always exempt from narcissism. His sprawling double-album La Superbe will provide both admirers and critics with plenty of ammunition. While many contemporary French artists have unabashedly attempted to present themselves as the natural heir to Serge Gainsbourg, Biolay is arguably the strongest contender to the throne. He is a consummate master of the sultry boy/girl dialogue against an ostinato motif of swirling strings that Gainsbourg patented in the '60s, and that since the '90s has seemingly become the Holy Grail of a hefty chuck of the alternative scene (Pulp, Divine Comedy, Tindersticks, Blur, Portishead, Placebo, Suede, etc.). Nowhere is this more evident in La Superbe than in "Brandt Rhapsodie," where Biolay and Jeanne Cherhal act out an entire French film of the "couple conversation" genre inside of a five-minute pop song, with results that are -- much like those films -- as seductive as they can be infuriating. The same applies for much of this album. Biolay is clearly at the top of his game as a composer and arranger, and indeed La Superbe sounds like the ultimate decalogue of French sensuality, but there is a limit as to how many long-winded, cinematic, spoken monologues on sex, the futility of life, and languid bitterness a record can hold. This ambitious but definitely self-indulgent project plays almost like a suite and can too easily become a sensuous sonic blur, one where it becomes hard to discern individually memorable songs. It should be noted, however, that La Superbe was greeted with rave reviews in France, many judging it to be Biolay's masterpiece. Still, in spite of its impeccable realization, one cannot help but to recommend the perfect pop conciseness of early Biolay albums, such as Rose Kennedy or L'Origine, to the lush abandon and excess of La Superbe.

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