There is an arch pun in the title of this Rita Mitsouko release, which sees the French boho-rock duo eschewing standard French pop (or variété) in favor of a broader rock palette. Opening track "L'Ami Ennemi" immediately surprises by its delicacy. In an incongruously sweet vocal turn, Catherine Ringer sneers at an old friend over lilting acoustic guitar laced with harmonica. It is a terrific song, but one that sets a standard the rest of the album doesn't meet. Harmonica also features in "Communiqueur d'Amour," the second song, which is nearly indistinguishable from the first -- and the listener begins to wonder what became of Les Rita Mitsouko's restless innovation. The answer may be that they have lost it: tracks like the jokily named "Berceuse" (Lullaby), with its squall of electric guitar and belligerent chorus, and "Terminal Beauty," where Ringer trades overblown vocals with System of a Down's Serj Tankian, never stray from middle-of-the-road rock. Overall, this is a ragbag of decent and subpar songs with no uniformity of purpose, lacking the urgency and sheer oddity of their best work. There are a couple of highlights: "Rendez-Vous Avec Moi-Même" features tooting flute and punchy lyrics over Fred Chichin's simple pattern of guitar funk, while "Même Si" is a meltingly lovely number. But even these songs cannot rescue the album from the disappointment it provokes. This is a shame, as Ringer's voice is still one of the most wonderful in pop music, but the pizzazz of the duo appears to be missing. The problem seems to be one of locating the Frenchness in rock music at this stage: where early albums like The No Comprendo brought a Gallic cabaret melody to spiky guitar riffs, Variéty cannot marry these two aspects of the Ritas' style.
AllMusic Review by Caspar Salmon
feat: Serj Tankian