Louis Philippe

Yuri Gagarin

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Louis Philippe has often described the making of his final album for Mike Alway's gloriously eccentric él label as a less-than-happy experience. Though he and fellow arranger/producer Dean Brodrick had been afforded the relatively princely budget of 10,000 pounds, which they promptly invested in a 24-track studio and a bevy of session musicians, the combination of friction between the two of them and a tendency to get carried away with the instrumental resources at their disposal for the first time took a heavy toll. Yet a listener alighting on Yuri Gagarin for the first time is unlikely to discern much in the way of bad vibes. Even more so than its predecessor, Ivory Tower, it simply teems with ideas. From his earliest recordings, it had been clear that Philippe was able to conjure sophisticated pop melodies seemingly at will. By now though, his hard work as él's in-house arranger was also beginning to pay further dividends, and as a consequence, many of the songs here venture some distance from the sunshine pop models (Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, et al.) that had served him so well in the past. At its delirious peak on a song like "Jean and Me," this playful fusion of vaulting melody and constantly surprising arrangements for brass and woodwind takes your breath away. Elsewhere, however, it's the very cause of the album's downfall. Too often Philippe's vocals are left to fight it out in the mix with overwrought orchestrations that, moreover, often sound ragged and ill-focused. The album is also cursed throughout by a drum sound that suggests a packing case being belabored with a dead fish. Nevertheless, Yuri Gagarin contains some of its creator's strongest songs in "Diamond," "Anna S'en Va," and "Goodbye Again." If it is ultimately a victim of Philippe and Brodrick's overweening ambition, let yourself not forget that in 1989, with the pop world in the grip of techno and shoegazing, overweening ambition was in desperately short supply.

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