It’s a cliché, but often the case, that some artists lose their edge when at their happiest. For nearly three decades – first with the band Carte de Séjour, and since 1991, as a solo artist – the French-Algerian rocker Rachid Taha has been making music with an edgy, sometimes angry subtext. This record is different.
Bonjour is something of a step into the unknown for Taha. After a lengthy and successful partnership with producer Steve Hillage, he’s chosen to work instead with Gaëtan Roussel, the man behind a string of Francophone pop hits for the likes of Vanessa Paradis and M. After recording demos in Paris, work continued with producer Mark Plati in New York. The results are being touted as Taha’s ‘American’ album, but aside from the vaguely alt-country feel of the title track, with its galloping snare, you may not realise.
The relaxed, loved-up tone of Je T’Aime Mon Amour, and the sound of a baby crying at the end of the innocuous Mabrouk Aalik seem to hint at a blissful domestic situation, but it would be wrong to speculate on the singer’s personal life. The main problem with Bonjour is that it’s the slightest and blandest album he’s made since Olé Olé in 1995. Much of Taha’s appeal lies in his gutteral scowl, but this is too often obscured by backing vocals, or crowded by the arrangements.
It’s by no means a bad album, just less substantial than might have been expected. With its hip hop-flavoured beats and synth stabs, Mine Jai has some of Taha’s old fire. His duet with Roussel on Bonjour has a pleasant, poppy feel. The flamenco-style palmas (hand claps) of Sélu add a novel complement to the ‘Arabic percussion’ that prevails elsewhere. And at least Taha hasn’t ditched his excellent mandole/banjo player Hakim Hamadouche, whose plunking notes have long lent his music much of its characteristic ‘oriental’ ambience.
But at only 38 minutes, it’s much shorter than any recent work, and suffers from a dearth of memorable tunes, especially when compared to his last album Diwan 2, the second instalment of his ongoing project covering classic Middle Eastern songs. With his own writing seemingly at a low ebb, Bonjour makes one wonder how soon it will or should be before Diwan 3 appears. --Jon Lusk
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window