Coming in between the retroactive fascination with older stars from the days of ye-ye (Serge Gainsbourg, France Gall, Françoise Hardy, etc.) and the contemporary Francophone pop scene spearheaded by Air and Daft Punk, Etienne Daho has never really been on the cool meter of most English-speaking audiences. The highly processed production and often cheesy Eurovision-style arrangements of his '80s hits didn't help much either. But due in part to collaborations with hipsters as varied as London indie electronic boffins Saint Etienne and perpetually dazed California psychedelicist David Roback, Daho has developed a cult following among the Anglophones. Released the year he turned 50, L'Invitation is in no way a crossover attempt (though Daho has recorded some English-language material over the years, these 11 songs are strictly in his native French), but it's accessible to an English-speaking audience in a way that some of his earlier albums weren't. According to the album's press kit, Daho was inspired by Jerry Wexler's approach on Dusty in Memphis for the album's production and arrangements: he went into the studio with merely a drummer to record the basic tracks, then layered other instruments into those voice and percussion takes. On songs like the sultry, fingersnap-driven "La Vie Continuera," there's an extraordinary intimacy to Daho's vocals; when the wordless, almost doo wop-like backing vocals kick in, it's suddenly like a modern Parisian updating of Pet Sounds. Elsewhere, the flamenco hand percussion and strident, almost martial acoustic guitar strums of the title track give the song a surprisingly insistent underpinning one doesn't normally associate with Daho, who's generally more of a crooner. Songs as varied as the gently psychedelic closer "Cap Falcon" (the song that most reveals the influence of Daho's work with Roback) and the handbell-driven come-ons of "Obsession" sound of a piece thanks to the stripped-down, simple arrangements. Fans of Cat Power and Feist's recent albums could well be all over this quite similar blend of pop, soul and folk-rock styles. L'Invitation could well be the album to finally make Etienne Daho cool.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason