- The Magazine
Mylène Farmer may not be a household name outside her native France, but she has sold over 30 million albums in a career spanning four decades. Famously reluctant to do interviews, letting her provocative and often daring music videos do the talking instead, Farmer recently surprised long-term fans by appearing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to promote her 10th studio album, Interstellaires (}}} and one half). The reclusive French chanteuse has previously worked with ‘90s techno maestro Moby and Red One, both on 2010’s wonderful Bleu Noir, ensuring that her fiercely loyal fan base can usually expect the unexpected. And despite being produced by Martin “Cherry Cherry Boom Boom” Kierszenbaum (Lady Gaga, Alexandre Burke, Robyn) and a deep-house DJ named The Avener, the album is a relatively predictable set of familiar-sounding soft ballads.
A hazy rubble of tremoring guitars and drums creates a shimmering opening on “Interstellaires.” Farmer’s expressive voice, like a bridge of sighs and coos, at once creates the kind of voluptuous and ethereal melody she has built her entire career on. As a result of retaining her rich tapestry of sound, its swirling distress is oddly comforting.
Kicking into gear on a dancefloor-aimed chorus, “Stolen Car” is the album’s most immediately memorable song. The heady chorus fuses together her signature sensuality with bruising rock sounds. The news of a duet with Sting may have alarmed many, but perhaps it was his oversupply of confidence that resulted in her performance of the album’s lead single on American television — a first in her career.
The sullen electronica of “À rebours” revisits the rich results of her Moby-produced Bleu Noir album. With a tinkly piano framing her famously understated crooning, here the “less is more” approach is what allows its beauty to emerge to maximum effect. Farmer shows herself back in the groove on the surprisingly funky “C’est pas moi,” its transcendent chorus a rush of romance and seasoned flair. Sounding sexy yet dazed on an album where such propulsive moments are few and far between, the slinky bassline threatens to give Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” a run for its money.
Full of cloudy vocals and lingering atmospherics, “Insondables” is haunting in feeling and lush in sensation. “Love Song,” a steady storm of romantic anxiety, gets more sweeping and immersive as the song progresses, matched in slightly calmer results such as the equally compelling “À rebours.” The throbbing electronica of “Pas d’access” opts for subtly menacing dance beats. Her voice swooping down in such a setting makes it one of the more instantly compelling compositions on hand.
For those who find Farmer on the mushy and gloopy side, “I Want You to Want Me” will have them in hives. Perhaps for those not familiar with the Cheap Trick original, it will function as a quietly stirring introduction. Rarely concerned with pandering to an audience, the choice of cover material remains baffling however much it retains her distinctively airy aesthetic.
With atypically perky verses, “Voie lactée” is the closest a Mylène song will probably get to being described as buoyant. Displaying all her usual characterizations to grand effect on a rippling chorus, her trademark understated drama predictably washes over.
The ghostly air of “City of Love” flows like a shower of falling leaves. Her knack for conjuring otherworldly, striking beauty out of the softest of arrangements is especially lovely. With exalting vocal layers, the song’s lavish march harnesses her expressive gasp-like vocals to dreamy effect. Chosen as a single, its video depicts the singer as an inquisitive goblin in a stormlit, empty mansion, sealing the song’s fate as a future classic.
If there are extreme highs, there are also mild slumps. The even more delicate and shrill than usual “Un jour ou l’aure” is a song that could define the entire album. In terms of finding her own vision and sticking to it, by now Farmer knows how to present her songs to an ever refined degree but it is to the expense of sounding distinct from previous works.
As a whole, Interstellaires is a soft and soothing stream of romantic melancholy, even if the singer’s ambition to cover new ground seems to have run dry. The songs mostly do not instantly distinguish themselves from the last, but nevertheless commit to her dependably lush and celebrated standards. If lacking anything as world-conquering as her biggest hit “Désenchantée”, her devastatingly understated approach is as meditative and assured as ever, but overall the album lacks anything attention-grabbing enough to warrant special attention away from her best work. The album has already topped the French charts (her twelfth to do so), and although it is unlikely to make much impact in the U.S., it nonetheless deserves to find an audience, if only to inspire deeper investigation into a back catalogue that boasts far better albums than merely a “very good” one.
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