The French band Indochine have now been at it for 32 years and are usually regarded in the way people regard musical gods like U2, The Beatles and Johnny Cash. In other words, people consider their music a form of high art and deem them music royalty. Well, their fans do anyway. And they have millions of them, spanning the entire globe. (Few French bands have had the international success of Indochine.) But, sure, there are plenty of people who hate them. Then you have fans who like their old stuff but not the new stuff. Or vice versa. I guess it’s the same way with U2; you have fans who think the first half of their career is flawless and that everything they’ve done since is crap. Although I don’t know any fans of U2’s new music who consider their old music to be crap. It seems anyone who even remotely likes U2 knows their early music is flawless, not unlike the music of The Doors or Led Zeppelin. In fact, even people who don’t listen to U2 seem to know their early work is pristine. It’s not that simple when it comes to Indochine though. Some fans of their current music truly loathe their early stuff. That’s because Indochine were more of a pop rock band when they started out, kind of like a French Duran Duran, though they never sounded entirely new wave, having gone through a period where they favored horns over synth if memory serves me correctly.
The Indochine of today is darker both in sound and in terms of the subjects they sing about. The band they most remind me of these days is Placebo. In fact, Placebo’s Brian Molko is a huge fan of Indochine, citing them as one of his favorite bands and influences, and he even appeared on their song “Pink Water” on the excellent album Alice et June.
Even though Indochine is darker these days, they’ve continued to release songs that have something of a pop vibe and have had plenty of hit singles accordingly. Their 2002 album Paradize was a huge success and some consider it the turning point that began the latest phase of their career. The only trouble with Paradize is that it’s so brilliant that nothing they’ve done since has quite been able to measure up to it in the eyes of many listeners.
Black City Parade was released in February but many fans are still trying to wrap their heads around it. You see, they’ve almost gone prog on this album. At least in the sense that several of their new songs go on for six or seven minutes. In fact, the album version of the single “Memoria” is 7:14. That’s an awfully long single, although they managed to cut it down to six minutes for the video. But, the thing is, if you can cut it down to six minutes and it’s still great, why have it be over six minutes? It’s not as though they do anything especially noteworthy during the final minute of the song. It more or less just continues to be more of the same. At least prog groups usually do something unexpected when they do long songs, not merely repeating a typical verse chorus verse structure over and over again. That said, I actually quite like Black City Parade. Even the longer songs have grown on me now. I can recognize that the album is far from flawless, but I still feel that its good qualities outweigh the negative. Their lyrics here are as poetic and thought-provoking as they’ve ever been, for one thing. (Although I’m sure they seem that way more to me than others since I only understand about half of them, my French being far from fluent.) And I like the fact that this album dissects every day life and its darkside. It’s not all bleak, however. “Le Fond De L’Air Est Rouge,” one of my favorite tracks, has a lovely part where gorgeous synth shines brightly and the overall sound of the song is rather upbeat. It’s also damn catchy.
Another thing I like about the album is how singer Nicola Sirkis’ voice is aging. The older he gets, the more texture his voice gets. It’s not flawless, but it’s haunting. Often, it’s even enchanting. I find myself falling under its spell whenever I listen to any of Indochine’s recent records and Black City Parade is no exception. It’s been said that the album lacks electro-infused pop hits like “L’aventurier” or “3eme sexe,” but it’s still full of contagious numbers. And, to my ears, there actually is an electro-vibe to “Traffic Girl,” one of the album’s most infectious tracks. If it’s not electronica, it’s still superb pop rock. The same goes for “Belfast,” which demands to be a single if it hasn’t already been released as such. It’s full of gorgeous harmonies and has layers and layers of gorgeous sound with all sorts of little nuances that reward listeners who spend the time to get to know it.
My favorite track on the album is “Wuppertal,” which is probably the most proggy track on hand. I like it because it’s an epic song with lots of rises and falls. There are moments where it could almost lull you off to sleep like a lullaby but then there are parts where an onslaught of clangy guitars and thunderous drums come crashing down on you. If you like Sigur Ros, it might appeal to you. Maybe it’s not quite that artsy, but it’s pretty close to it and that’s plenty artsy enough for me. Is Black City Parade my favorite Indochine album? No. But it’s still a remarkable one.