The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Today, readers, I am going to recommend to you a French concept album about a half-man, half-faun and his doomed love affair. No this isn't the spirit of '76 (thank the Lord!) - Sid would never have died for it, but you might. The record in question is Satyred Love by a Frenchman known simply as Rob.

What is it like? Imagine if you can a French Neil Hannon sans irony and aware of these delicious little crevices of late '70s/'80s pop which few others have dared to explore. Think of a conference between '80s shiny yellow electropop in general, divine AOR chord changes (think 10cc, think Hall and Oates) and more than a smattering of A-Ha's neurotic Nordic uncertainty - indeed, this could well be the sequel to that trio's tormented Scoundrel Days masterpiece.

It starts, appropriately enough, with the birth - "Introducing A Satyred Love." Here we have a solemn Gainsbourg-style voiceover atop a punchy Hammond organ riff - what you wish the Charlatans would try a little harder to sound like - "Silk comes out of his mouth when he echoes the songs of nature/People watch him rise upon the moon and in the depths of eternity."

Having been born, the satyr now looks for guidance. "Godspeed" is a hymnal plea ("Oh my God, protect me") set against an Air-style ambient shimmer. Note the repeated stretching out and involuntary vibrato of the vocoder against the word "protect."

We now move from the sacred to the carnal: "You & I & My Song" is a splendid Numanesque electo-stomper, where his desire is most audible ("Look at my hands/See how they shake for you/Look at my heart/See how he jumps for you"). But alongside the sensual, there is already a portent of doubt: "Watch out young girl/You know I could leave you first."

Love, when found, has to be consolidated, and Rob does this on the following two tracks, both immaculately seductive pop: "King Lover" and "Never Enough." In the latter, the satyr's doubt becomes more explicit: "You say I never call you/But the phone's always ringing/When I get to think of you/So why keep asking me?...You say I'm a selfish bastard/But I'm not a worried mind/When I get to think of us/It's me I think about." Is this brutality or just honesty? All set against chord changes worthy of Andrew Gold at his finest.

Then comes the crux of the whole symmetrical aesthetic arc of this record: "The Wedding Day." Primarily a solemn, organ-led instrumental, it sounds more like a funeral march. Its sustained, heartbreaking minor chords are worthy of Badalamenti or Wilson. At the end, he whispers "Shall I know if I love you on the wedding day?"

I personally found this piece very painful to listen to, because (and it's nothing to do with the intent of this album) I didn't want to be reminded of weddings which end in death. It brought everything back, and like My Computer's Vulnerabilia, which I now recognise to be a potentially very important record indeed, it made me think about leaving this world (as I cannot help but do periodically). Happily, I have plenty of things to keep me busy in this world for the time being.

The mood of the record, however, now becomes distinctly more melancholic (although Rob himself thinks that the German word Schadenfreude sums the concept up better). In the Morten Harket sings Robert Wyatt lament "Mermaid Deluxe," the satyr admits that he has not outgrown his temptations: "I can hear girls/Calling and coming/While I'm going/In and out" accompanied by an appropriately ironic "doo wop" female backing chorus. The achingly poignant instrumental "Love Bizarre" invites us to ponder his difficulty in reconciling the physical with the mental. By the time we reach "Do You Mind If I Keep On Watching You" he has effectively ceased to play any active role in love-making with the Other; his soul has separated from the body and he is now merely spectating. This reverses the viewpoints set out in "You & I & My Song."

And when we reach the inevitable break-up song "Unilarme" strings arrive to underline the satyr's self-induced grief. The thoughts were better than the realities. Now, instead of wanting protection, he pleads to the Other: "Oh please, let me survive...Would I be afraid/With a love with no waves/I was hoping/You were less/Than what you are...Only drugs understand me/Better than you'll ever...No I'm not one/One of your kind." In other words, the faun gets in the way of the man and makes any sort of consummation impossible. Joy/sorrow - this record charts the emotional rollercoaster which is a key component of any relationship. The closing "Godspeed Reprise" leaves the satyr to ponder the consequences of Schadenfreude.

These words hardly scratch the surface of how deeply moving this record is. Apparently he fell in love at the time when he started to write this album - and happily remains so. It's a brutal look at the conflicts which exist within the mind of every human being seeking love/an equal. As a masterpiece of bleak pop it stands beside the aforementioned Vulnerabilia. It is released in the UK next Monday (7). It will emotionally destroy you.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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