Emilie Simon: The Big Machine
‘The Big Machine’ is a bit of a bait and switch. Fans of Emilie Simon have come to expect the quirky, ‘iceblue’ atmosphere of her earlier work have expressed profound disappointment with this album; the French music blog Filles Sourires
dismissed the record as “idea-free” and “Depeche Mode-light”.
Criticising ‘The Big Machine’ for not sounding like ‘Végétal’ does the album – and the artist – a disservice, but it’s true these brash and bright pop songs lack the sinister whirr that made her previous albums so interesting, and Simon’s full-voiced singing, in English, reveals the full scope of Kate Bush’s influence, although the songs lack the pagan depth that makes Bush so compelling. It is a shame, because Simon’s sound was so unique and strange it is disappointing to hear her trying to mimic other artists. Simon writing full-assault pop songs should be glorious, and there are moments of brilliance. The songs are loud and carry a dark 80s vibe, big choruses heavy with hooks and plenty of dynamics, one step shy of too much.
Overall, ‘The Big Machine’ is Simon leaving Paris for New York City. As she told Les Inrockuptibles: “The city itself is an inspiration. It offers a mad energy.” Hardly a ground-breaking idea: the New York Port Authority receives a flood of musicians who find the city “inspiring” arriving on the hour. And so it is with ‘The Big Machine’: it sounds like a tourist’s record. The pounding piano – apparently all these songs were composed first on piano, a change in process for Simon – brings to mind Coney Island ragtime, open-all-night hot dog stands and 24-hour public transport, the bright lights of Broadway and music pouring out of corner bodegas, all funnelled through Simon’s aural techno-fractals. Which should have been great, but comes off more likea Tilt-A-Whirl take on Kate Bush and Tori Amos. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but for a musician as innovative and original as Emilie Simon, it is a disappointment.