Zazie: 14/49

Although there’s no doubt that Zazie (or Za7ie, as she is here) has made lots of the right choices for her life, it’s moot whether the idea behind ‘14/49’, her seventh studio album, counts as one of them. After around ten years as a swank fashion model she began singing publicly and issued the first of her self-produced albums in 1992. Collaborators have included Pascal Obispo, she’s written for Jane Birkin and has had album sleeve shots taken by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Embedded in the high end of French musical culture she can do pretty much she wants –  which is the problem here.
‘14/49’ is a high concept album, with its 14 tracks drawn from seven batches of seven tracks that are being released to the internet for download over seven weeks from September to November. One of the 49 songs, one that’s download-only for now is a duet with M. Something that high profile suggests that ‘14/49’ is not the last physical release of this glut of material.
Unless it’s Art Brut or an air-clearing outpouring (Wildman Fisher, George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’), musical logorrhoea is usually best kept behind closed doors for refining and editing as part of the production process. Zazie is effectively pop, and pop is about focus. This torrent of music feels more like a novelty engendered by some “oooh, the internet, how great” moment. Who is going to have the patience to wade through all the tracks? Does their web presence in toto negate the idea of this album? Could those who bother to download the lot compile their own album? As marketing, it’s full of holes, a ridiculous framing concept that both undermines and overshadows ‘14/49’.
And, judging by the contents, choosing what ended up on this patchy album must have been problematic. Four tracks are utterly terrific. ‘Amazone’ is a jagged reflection with accordion textures that evoke tension and distress. ‘Je Vous Aime’ is a straightforward acoustic guitar/piano-driven mid tempo delicacy that rolls forward with a sympathetic string arrangement. ‘Polygame’ hints at the textures of ‘In Rainbows’ Radiohead and Sigur Rõs, and has an affecting, yearning mood. The quasi-electropop ‘L’Amour Dollar’ is swell too, but the almost-great piano/toy piano balled ‘Tout Va Bien’ is knocked off balance by icky guest little-kid vocals (this is no ‘Lemon Incest’). Worse is ‘Le Jour J’, a duet with Philippe Paradis, a diabolical electro-reggae confection. Less painful but odder, ‘Je Te Tiens’ (en duo with Papillion Paravel) is a chunk of junior Benjamin Biolay that could fit snugly on one of his albums. Elsewhere, cuts like opener ‘Les Pieds Nus’, ‘Avant L’Amour’ (another trite title) are too thin and in thrall to a glitchy electronica template that Zazie has visited often before. Less is more is a cliché, but the frustrating ‘14/49’ would have benefited if that’d been the maxim here. Pity.
© Kieron Tyler