Mike McLatchey 15-September-2002 Overview

Emmanuel Booz began his four-album solo career light years away from the progressive masterpiece that would be his coda. Coming from a singer/songwriter background, it's still a surprise that his first album would be a French rendition of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant. This is so close to the original in sound and style that it could almost have been if Guthrie himself sang in French. Not a native speaker, I'm at a loss to say whether or not this album succeeds on the same level. For those who don't know, Guthrie's album was sort of a humorous take on the Bob Dylan tradition, which was itself somewhat of a political take on the Woodie (Arlo's father) Guthrie tradition. Therefore this album's charms lie entirely with those who understand French. English speakers would probably do just fine with Guthrie's version. Of the four albums here, this one is easily of least interest.

Move forward four years in literal history and an era in musical. Mostly gone are the straight folk references and singer/songwriter type moves, and about the only thing remaining is the idea of a concept. The album is not a suite per se, but generally most of the album is subtitled under the album title Le Jour ou les Vaches. From mainstream to the avant garde in four years, Booz has generally created a very unusual album, full of effects, snippets of symphonies, rock and much more. As the vocals are dominant, one wants to use Ange as a reference, but truly Booz does not pull much from symphonic rock and rather the inspiration seems to come largely from Tim Buckley's more avant-garde material (think Star Sailor here) as well as some modern classical music. For example, "Je Ne Peuz Rien Te Dire" sounds like a French Tom Jones backed by a symphony and mixed by Nurse With Wound. The effects are very unsettling in general, as the avant production and strange mixing techniques seem to clash at times with the songwriting, making neither particularly compelling in themselves. However, compared to France's immersion in contemporary symphonic rock and fusion styles, this actually comes out as one of the least derivative albums of the era.

Booz's third album, Clochard, is about as different from the first two albums as they were from each other. Instead of the rock/classical/avant garde format, Clochard seems to have settled more for a real band sort of feel, and for the first time, there seems to be no overarching concept to the album. Booz has brought back some of his acoustic guitar-led folk stylings from his early years as well, and again one is reminded of Tim Buckley's initial folky start and subsequent digression into psychedelic and rock music. The big changes here are the room for instrumental work, as Booz's back up band has brought in enough talent where there are actually soloists. There is even a moment with a synth/guitar solo trade off section and another where violin, keys and guitar share. Such instrumental strengths only go to accentuate Booz's vocals and bring a lot of balance in, in fact one part sounds almost exactly like part of the Canadian band Pollen's only album. Clochard has taken a step closer to progressive and symphonic rock realms in general with this instrumentation, although it wouldn't be until a few years later that the culmination of all these elements would finally find their perfect place. It should also be mentioned here the convergence of Booz's style with other schools of French music as Joel Dugrenot, Francois Jeanneau, and Michel Ripoche (among others) are backing musicians here.

Dans Quel Etat J'Erre ranks among the best French progressive rock albums that have not seen the light of day on CD format. One can already tell with the three pieces, one side-long, that Booz has gone for a much more complex and innovative style and has signified this by dropping his first name. The backing musicians on this album are generally much more obscure than on Clochard, although there is a great violin duel by Didier Lockwood and Jean-Louis Mahjun that adds to the recognizability factor. The music is dark, complex, progressive rock with all sorts of time and key changes, an approach that Clochard hinted at times, but never quite reached. It's actually surprising that a musician who would spend so much time working on vocal-oriented compositions would so drastically turn to such an instrumentally dominated work of music. This is progressive rock at its finest, the melodies are anything but obvious and seem uncommonly researched, the structures are often constantly in motion, changing from measure to measure, and there is a palpable sense of adventure. It's no surprise that Booz's vocal work here is the closest to Ange of the four albums, but even Ange never created a work of such obvious dissonance and experimentation. In fact the only albums even close to this amazing work of art only hint at the edges, such as the eponymous album by Arachnoid or the weird vocal experiments of Philippe Doray. It's an amazing success, particularly in that it belonged more to the progressive rock tradition of a few years earlier rather than that of the digital 80s.

[As of 2002, bootleg versions of the last three albums are in circulation in Japan. Booz went from singer to actor in recent years and has played parts in many films, as of this writing, most recently in The Bourne Identity.]

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