Mehdi Zannad aka Fugu breaks away on “Fugue”, an album brimming with wit, invention & melody, in his native tongue.
Taking his musical cues from great lost English (Pilot, Clifford T Ward, Gilbert O’Sullivan) and US (Emitt Rhodes, Eric Carmen) 70s pop, and baroque light-psychedelia (Jimmy Webb, The Association), and combining these influences with the romance of French Chanson (Michel Polnareff, Christophe, Gainsbourg), Mehdi Zannad has created a unique blend; intelligent & witty, but inclusive & accessible. And always totally pop.
Following a remarkable & diverse series of privately released 45s & EPs, Zannad –under his Fugu identity- released his album debut “Fugu 1” in 2001. Influenced by post-rockers such as Stereolab & The High Llamas as much as by his prime inspirations The Beatles & The Beach Boys, “Fugu 1” was a series of brief musical vignettes of a future world, as viewed from 50 years in the past. This debut was followed in 2005 by “As Found”, a collection of instantly classic three-minute pop nuggets which collectively held an aura of being flown in from 1964-via-1974. Following a soundtrack for filmmaker Serge Bozon (of whom more later), Zannad returns with “Fugue".
Besides being the name of a musical form, “Fugue” is French for “Break Away”, a phrase which reflects the album’s mood: the intention for this project was to start afresh –hence the reversion to solo billing. As a further break from the recent past, these are Zannad’s first recordings since his earliest releases to be sung in his mother tongue. “I think language is a real issue in pop music,” he says. “I was talking with the album’s co-producer Xavier Boyer (from French pop titans Tahiti 80), and we realised that we could use the French language like the Brazilian you hear in Os Mutantes, or the Welsh in Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci: you can hear they're saying interesting and exciting things about their respective cultures without necessarily understanding a word. It appears as something melodic and rooted in something true, in their identities.” The record’s musical settings vary from the straight-ahead group sounds of the album’s opener, “Ecoute”, to piano-based balladry; from pastoral folk to the full-blown orchestral “Paresse”. The common threads throughout are Mehdi’s impossibly finely honed pop sensibilities and his innate sense of melody. His multi-tracked harmony vocals are a constant presence too; airy & mellifluous, his falsetto could melt your heart.
The album also reflects Mehdi Zannad’s background as an architect. The music often creates an air of “sonic architecture”; occasionally oblique or abstract, but always melodious. Zannad: “I think a good song is connected to inspiration, and so -to the listener- it's coming from a place where all good songs are and sometimes you pick one up, it's not coming from the brain. But you have to make things up a bit, and it's called production: structures, instruments etc. It's giving shape to an emotion. But it is totally similar to architecture: the first sketch of a project is pure inspiration, then comes the form, you have to involve engineering. In a lot of ways an architecture agency works like a recording studio.”
“Fugue” was written in collaboration with filmmaker Serge Bozon, who Mehdi met in 2007 while working on the soundtrack of Bozon’s film “La France”. The film was set in the 1914-18 war; Bozon’s intention was that the songs the soldiers sang while on the front line would have a psychedelic influence, so his reference points dovetailed perfectly with Mehdi’s sensibilities. Zannad had clearly found a kindred spirit, so approached Bozon to write lyrics for the songs that became the album you now hold. It all fits like a dream. A further collaboration with Bozon, "The Architect of Saint Gaudens" is the original soundtrack to Bozon's new short film, presented at the Locarno festival this summer. The recording involves amateurs from the local school of music of Saint Gaudens, a small city in the Pyrenean mountains, with his backing band playing along.
A mere 28 minutes long (“We compressed the songs to what was essential. The magic in pop lies in its short format; it's like taking a picture”), “Fugue” is pure essence of pop. It makes no attempt to assault the senses. Breezy & sunshine-fuelled, it’s simply a joyous celebration of melody, harmony & cultural identity. It’s the sound of freedom, of escapism. The sound of breaking away.