Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), the Saturday Night Live-band-guitarist-turned-Top-40-God-of-Pop, signed Yelle, the French electro-pop act who debuted in 2007 with Pop-Up, to his Sony-owned label Kemosabe Records. The involvement of one certain doctor explains the predictable cache of inoffensively catchy tracks that are found on Yelle’s third long-player, Complètement Fou. As a career move, teaming up with Dr. Luke might be just the ticket Yelle needs to get an in on the disposable income of teenagers everywhere that will put their parents’ money behind the latest corporate-polished pop act.
Not that Yelle wasn’t a band owned by a big label before Dr. Luke came along, snatching them up when they opened the UK leg of Katy Perry’s California Dreams tour. But Pop-Up was a lot more refreshing and interesting on first impact. The debut had an adventurous spirit (it included the high-energy diss song “Je Veux Te Voir” aimed at French alt-hip hop group TTC) that was characterized by Julie Budet’s infectious lyrical chanting and GrandMarnier’s beat-focused production. I re-listened to Pop-Up a couple of days ago, and it brought back ancient memories of my high school playlists… And like a lot of stuff you listen to in high school, it doesn’t age with as much grace as you expected it to.
On Complètement Fou, Yelle’s distinctive style comes through as a collaborative effort with Dr. Luke behind the helm. The band’s reinvention is an update for the better, even if there are moments of generic tricks and sterile movements. The title track, “Complètement Fou”, is an example of this with a prominent staccato piano-hook that’s in line with past songs by Yelle like “Les Femmes”. “Complètement Fou” breaks down in the second half into an electro-groove that could be and should be its own song. This quirk is featured in “Ba$$in”, another upbeat track that similarly employs a throwback euro-house piano-hook. “Coca Sans Bulles” too is a cohesive blend of pop formula and Yelle sound with Budet’s yeye-fashioned vocals, cute and perky as any chic mademoiselle’s, hitched to a chorus that is basically lifted from a nursery.
Meanwhile, “Florence en Italie”, “Toho”, and “Les Soupirs et les Refrains” are identity crises. “Florence” begins indistinguishably from any song currently sitting high on the Billboard throne. By the time “Florence” gets to its silky chorus, the Hallmark uplift has fallen short. Most of this lies in how Budet’s voice loses its signature presence when it is stretched soft and light. There is more life to Budet’s voice when it’s being pitched back and forth as if cranked by a dial switch than there is in the unremarkable “Toho” and “Les Soupirs” .
“Moteur Action” is exciting for how all too familiarly it adheres to run-of-the-mill dance songs with a fetching drum pedal-kick mixed with bristling synths, and the song manages, convincingly so, to embody a curious, playful essence. Neo-soul treat “Nuit De Baise II”, at a-minute-and-nineteen-seconds, doesn’t waste any of that time, a gorgeous blip on the radar that sends out R&B funky chills for bedroom carnality that toes the line between cheese and sex.
Honourary mention goes to “Jeune Fille Garnement”, a term Google translated for me as “girl brat.” “Jeune Fille Garnement” is a ghoulish tune that brings to mind “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” if only because its spooky, sanitized sound comes off as staged jest.
A title like Complètement Fou implies a tongue-in-cheek style, besides empty sensationalism, which is what you ultimately get from Yelle on their third effort.