French TV

Pardon Our French!

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If The Case Against Art, French TV's previous effort, had signaled a fallback to a simpler form of progressive rock (akin to the group's mid-'90s material), Pardon Our French! resumes where the glorious Violence of Amateurs had left off, coming back to a wild brand of avant-prog. The music is highly complex, odd meters passing by at light speed and riffs parading in an unruly fashion, each new one tugging the music toward a new direction -- including symphonic progressive rock, bluegrass, circus music, jazz-rock, dark chamber rock, and cartoonish avant-prog. This time around, the band's nucleus consists of the ever-faithful éminence grise Mike Sary, Chris Smith, Warren Dale, and newcomer Jeff Gard, each musician playing two armfuls of instruments. The album begins with "Everything Works in Mexico," a ten-minute workout that will remain the simplest tune of the set, despite it being quite eventful. Clocking in at six minutes makes "Sekala Dan Niskala" the "hit single" of the CD, although its incredibly dense and shifting arrangements (among other things) disqualify it for massive radio airplay. Try cramming guitars, electric violin, viola, rebab, accordion, sampler, clarinets, saxophones, flutes, recorders, bass harmonica, bass, drums, tabla, dumbek, riq, and innumerable other percussion instruments in only six minutes of music! "Tears of a Velvet Clown" is the album's highlight, a truly mad piece of writing, featuring circus and fanfare elements woven throughout this epic. Fast-paced, complex, exhilarating, and hilarious like only French TV can manage to pull off. "When the Ruff Tuff Creampuffs Take Over" follows similar guidelines (!), but is somewhat less coherent. The obligatory cover track on this eighth record (the eight ball on the cover artwork gives it away) is actually a medley, "The 'Pardon Our French' Medley," a virtuoso run through songs by the key French progressive rock groups of the '70s: Pulsar, Shylock, Carpe Diem, Atoll, Etron Fou Leloublan, and Ange, whose "La Bataille du Sucre" is butchered in the opening minutes (even this French-speaking reviewer couldn't make out half of the lyrics). It is not as powerful as the Samla Mammas Manna cover found on The Violence of Amateurs, but it is nevertheless a connoisseur listen. Pardon Our French! will not rekindle U.S.-France political relations, but it should be welcomed with open arms by the few music fans who enjoy sportive, mind-boggling avant-progressive rock.

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