Philippe Katerine: Philippe Katerine

There’s no doubt that Philippe Katerine is one of France’s most idiosyncratic and – generally – engaging artists. His last album, 2005’s ‘Robots Apres Tout’, was a spiffy electro-led fantasia. Before that, 2002’s8ème Ciel’ was an extraordinary semi-psychedelic concept piece with whimsical made-up characters. Unreality and artifice are at the centre of his persona.
The latter might be the case here, but this – his eponymous new album – is utterly confounding. It’s terrible too.
I write this as a long-term committed fan and supporter. It’s painful writing this.
Third cut ‘La Reine D’Angleterre’ sets itself up with off-key harmonising around ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’. Over that theme he sings in the one-and-three-quarter minutes of the song in a sweet voice “je suis la reine de l‘angleterre…hello, I am the queen of kingdom and I am shitting on your face, I am because I am shitting on your face because the world is perfect”. Queen Elizabeth II must be quaking at this penetrating analysis.
Next up is ‘Good-Bad’. A minimalist guitar riff strums (sub-sub, very-sub Weezer). “I feel good. I feel bad. Good. Bad.” The sum total of the lyrics.
‘Bisou’ starts with lyrics about shopping malls and builds to “…fuck off, I’m going to smash your face…when we say fuck off what do we expect?” Not bisous, I imagine.
“I feel like I am a plastic bag swept by the wind, Place de la Republique, a Monday in September, at 6.30 the traffic is terrible the sun is wearing his red pyjamas” he intones on ‘Plastic Bag’. How deep. Cringing is the only possible response. He’s not a Daniel Johnson or a Wesley Willis – Katerine ain’t no outsider musician, with all the attendant constraints and limitations.
Somehow, he’s enticed Jeanne Balibar to contribute to the minimalist funk of ‘I Love Your Ass’. Again, repetition of the title sets the scene. Balibar chips in with a few romps through the title.
On ‘He Wants to Make a Movie’, his parents (seen with him on the album cover) contribute some vocals. The movie is to feature “nude girls and cripples”. Both his mum and dad sing that line. How lovely for them. The embarrassing is now offensive. Did Katerine think that employing the third person (“He”) in the title would distance him from the crassness?
Katerine may have recorded this after experiencing some sort of Skip Spence-type meltdown. It could be his ‘Oar’. But it’s too deliberate, too contrived for that. The effort of singing and recording in English for the first time negates any suggestions that this could be a spontaneous outpouring.
This trite album might be art. But after hearing it, who would or could care? Failing to pass the first test of any music, it’s almost impossible to listen to. It’s an insult to his audience. Perhaps he thinks he’s the musical Lars von Trier? But at the very least von Trier’s films engage, something this album spectacularly fails to do. What a waste.
© Kieron Tyler