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Album review


Dionysos

Monsters In Love


Paris 

02/09/2005 - 

Brilliant live performers, French group Dionysos demonstrate that they can also cut it in the studio with their fifth release Monsters In Love. Partly recorded in Mekhnes in Morocco, this album invites us into a raucous, burlesque world where punk-folk crashes headlong into the dulcet tones of the ukulele.


 
 
"You've got to keep on dreaming with all your strength. […] It's your best weapon to stay alive. And it's the same for everybody."
In the novel Maintenant qu’il fait tout le temps nuit sur toi, Giant Jack is a smuggler. When someone dear to you leaves you, the four metre tall Giant Jack gives you a bit of his shadow to help you get through the pain. The novel is by Mathias Malzieu, who also fronts the band Dionysos: "I invented this monster to help me. When I lost my mother two years ago, some kindly people told me: 'Give yourself a present. To start again, you have to do the things you love doing.' So I constructed a little family for myself, which I took pleasure in playing around with."

After their appearance in his novel, the monsters have now invaded the music. The story starts the same way, even if each of the tracks stands up in its own right. "It wasn't done as a concept album, I was writing the novel and album at the same time, and the two fed off each other. I had a strong desire to write stories, and not just do songs that sound good, with an atmosphere and nice hooks."

The beauty of difference

 
  
 
The group is well-known for its off-beat approach to its art, whether in song lyrics or on-stage antics. Here, this story of monsters doesn't seem to be just another silly whim. For Mathias, it's something of a credo: "I like the idea that the monsters aren't always what you believe them to be. I'm attracted to characters like Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, for example. There is poetry in being different and accepting the fact, it's an idea that I cherish. Edward Scissorhands could have hurt people but instead wants to do marvels with his hands."

As the album progresses we get to meet Giant Jack: "He's a cross between Robert Mitchum, Bela Lugosi, and Tom Waits in a century's time. He's someone people are afraid of. There's a rumour that he killed two or three girls a century ago. Nonetheless, in the end he gives bits of his shadow to people who are in mourning."

In his wake appears the character of Mister Chat, who is "a former seducer, a solitary guy hooked on chatting up women, who is one day changed into a cat by a witch. She's a stubborn witch, and Mister Chat has had to stay a cat for the rest of his life." We also meet Miss Acacia, a girl who has quills that grow when she's in love, like a protection. "She's a little like a bear who is very sweet, but tends to hurt people by accident. When she takes someone in her arms, she pierces their eardrums." So where do all these wacky people come from? Films, books, or even dreams? No, they all come from people Mathias knows: "My inspirations come from acquaintances. Miss Acacia really exists. No, she doesn't have quills on her body, but in her head, she does. She is both "monstrous" and engaging." But Mathias isn't playing any kind of trick on her by putting her in a song. When he uses people for a song, he lets the person know in advance.

From dark to light

 
 
Far from this ethereal dream world, Dionysos also does political songs on this album, which is something of a first. The chorus from Retour de Bloody Betty asks "Osama, where are we, saddamised by Bush". It's a rather unexpected turn for Mathias: "I've always been very wary of this type of song. Groups like Noir Désir, Zebda or Les Têtes Raides can pull it off but there's often a huge amount of demagoguery involved. But after a while I just got so sick of people like Le Pen and Bin Laden that I wanted to write something very visceral about it. When I write a song for Dionysos, I try to respect the group and the public by being sincere. That's just as true for a song like Neige, which is very melancholy, as it is for L'Homme qui pondait des oeufs, with its burlesque feel, or a politically motivated track like Bloody Betty."

With Monsters In Love, the group embraces both the dark and the light. Dionysos are masters of unlikely instrumentation, using the ukulele, bells or theremin to give colour to their songs. With one foot in the tradition of English rock, and the other in French chanson, this album offers much more than an attractive fusion of sound: we find ourselves in a deliciously seductive dream world. Its monsters are disturbing, violent, touching and captivating, and will linger in the mind long after the CD has come to its end.

Dionysos Monsters In Love (Barclay/Universal) 2005)
Mathias Malzieu Maintenant qu’il fait tout le temps nuit sur toi (Flammarion) 2005


Ludovic  Basque

Translation : Hugo  Wilcken