1998 proved to be an exceptional year for Axelle Red. After performing the anthem for the World Cup and releasing yet another best-selling single (Rester femme), the multi-talented star went on to triumph at the 'Victoires de la Musique' awards, carrying off the trophy for Best Female Artist of the Year. In February of this year Axelle also celebrated the arrival of a baby daughter (Janelle). And now, to cap it all, Axelle has come storming back to the forefront of the Francophone music scene with her brand new album Toujours moi, released on the Virgin label. (The album was deliberately held back for a release this spring as Axelle's previous album A tâtons was still doing extremely well in the charts).
The popular Belgian star can now rest happily on her laurels - after all, Ms. Red no longer needs to prove her vocal prowess or her song-writing skills! Axelle's new album Toujours moi not only consolidates her reputation as a major 90's star, it also stamps her personality in bold on the music scene. The Belgian star has certainly made her mark in recent years, recording a string of danceable songs with intelligent lyrics which are never afraid to venture into the personal. In recent years Axelle has carved out a niche for herself partway between alternative French pop diva Mylène Farmer, 'bimbo' blonde sex symbol Ophélie Winter and 'Lolita' chanteuse Elsa.
Musically speaking, Axelle Red has remained remarkably consistent. Not surprisingly, the Belgian star's new album Toujours moi still incorporates a lot of 60's and 70's influences, both in the melodies and instrumentation as well as in Axelle's singing style. Indeed, at times the Belgian singer's full-throated vocals recall the legendary heroines of the soul and r'n'b era. What's more, Toujours moi features an impressive 8-minute instrumental track (Stay or Not) which is eerily reminiscent of Isaac Hayes (c.f. the spot-on fusion of violins and bass). Yet, while Ms. Red could easily stick to her role of 'lady funk à la française', she proves on her new album that she is more than ready to tackle a wide range of styles.
In fact, Toujours moi, features an impressively eclectic mix of songs - from pop-funk 'chanson' with special voice effects (Faire des mamours) to boppy light-hearted number to be danced to humming "boop-boop-de-boop" (Mon futur proche). Axelle also explores a more serious vein on the first single release Ce matin, an intimate ballad which features a full string and wind section. The Belgian star also proves she can do good gospel too on the catchy Goldman-influenced Parce que c'est toi. Axelle goes on to experiment with a little exercise in style (A 82 ans), then launches into a mid-tempo rock number on which she tries out a few Marianne Faithfull-style vocals (La Réponse). After a hedonistic dance number (amusingly entitled Bimbo à moi), it's on to J'ai jamais dit, a soft romantic ballad partway between Elton John and Joni Mitchell. Then it's time to slow things down even further with Quitter tôt, before getting back to the title track Toujours moi (an Italo-folk song with a catchy soul chorus). On her new album Axelle sets out to prove that she is a woman of many (vocal) parts. Indeed, she reveals herself as sensitive yet dynamic, an incorrigible romantic but also a mature woman of the 90's not afraid to speak her own mind (and sing about herself in the first person!)
Born in the Flemish part of Belgium, Axelle nevertheless learnt French in her childhood and, proving to be gifted for languages, the polyglot singer went on to record her first songs in English. After coming through her years of musical 'apprenticeship' with flying colours, Axelle has now reached maturity and can proudly gain her place on the Francophone music scene. What exactly is this place, you might well ask? Well, Axelle continues to tread a thin (and extremely delicate) line between modern 'chanson' (i.e. songs with intelligent lyrics and carefully-crafted arrangements) and mainstream 'pop' (a market currently cornered by fellow Belgian diva Maurane and French 'crooner' Liane Foly). Fans need not worry on Axelle's behalf, however, she's guaranteed to stand out from the crowd of female artists on the current music scene - and not just because of her flame-coloured locks! What makes Axelle a true original is her public persona which continues to waver between touching naivety and angry rebellion, between old-fashioned romanticism and headstrong independence. And it's this which will no doubt ensure her staying-power.