:: Article

The Lovers

Irony and Heartache: David Thompson falls for Sheffield duo The Lovers.

From torch songs to comedy via techno, trash pastiche and all points in between, Marion Benoist and Fred de Fred have created something strange and rather wonderful. As The Lovers, their music has attracted a rapidly growing audience, reaching from the duo’s adopted home of Sheffield to Paris, Japan and Singapore. Their recordings have graced TV adverts and art installations and are even being used as a grammatical teaching tool by Linguascope and the French Board of Education. An eponymous debut album is currently available in several limited-edition formats, most notably as a perfumed black satin cushion, embroidered with gold thread and trimmed with lace.

The scope of The Lovers’ album is difficult to adequately summarise and its deft fusion of genres defies easy classification. This may be slightly inconvenient for a reviewer, but it’s also a testament to the duo’s confidence and ingenuity. Fifteen tracks mix minimal electronics with allusions to Serge Gainsbourg, Boris Vian and various French film scores, coaxing into life a flirtatious and playful techno cabaret. With a loose entourage of producers, musicians and artists, including Parrot, Dean Honer and Phil Wolstenholme, Benoist and Fred embrace all manner of musical and theatrical devices to play with ideas of ‘Frenchness’ as imagined by their audience. Picture, if you will, a twilight world of lounge crooners, low-rent boudoirs and velour furnishings, but with unspecified stains and the odd cigarette burn.

Throughout the album, Benoist and Fred slip between French, English and Franglais, along with the musical equivalent of each respective idiom. In the effortless oversized sleaze of ‘La Degustation’, wine tasting takes on entirely different, and more predatory, connotations, while ‘La Le’ is an instructional duet about the joys of French noun genders set to an unhinged and infectious rhythmic loop. Other highlights include the jaunty ‘Ne Worry Pas’, a tragicomic telephone conversation about philandering and its consequences; the feather-light and oddly affecting ‘Bring Your Chaos’, and ‘Frog ‘N’ Snail’, a tear-jerking ditty about life in a foreign country and the fate of edible molluscs.

However, the album’s centrepiece is undoubtedly ‘Basque Country’, a cinematic drama written in collaboration with Jarvis Cocker, in which Benoist recounts her travails as a New York Bunny Girl. Lush orchestration hovers between irony and heartache as Benoist’s poignant story unfolds: “I’m just a Bunny Girl. I’m not allowed to dance. I’m just a bedroom ornament, erotic furniture…” ‘Basque Country’ most effectively demonstrates the key to The Lovers’ musical and lyrical genius — their ability to effortlessly juggle parody and kitsch with intimacy and real emotional engagement. The Lovers’ world is part confessional, part pantomime — postmodern mischief with a heart. From the album’s opening bars, it’s apparent that theirs is indeed a labour of love, made with obvious affection for even its smallest and most implausible components. Beguiling, hilarious and disturbing in more or less equal measure, and often all at once.

(photo: Chris M. Saunders)

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
David Thompson is a freelance writer whose work appears in The Observer, The Times and The Guardian. He is also a regular contributor to Eye: The International Review of Graphic Design. An archive of his work can be found at his website.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 19th, 2006.