Deja Vu All Over Again
Lou Doillon is quite the cosmopolite. Being the daughter of French pop icon Jane Birkin has afforded her numerous opportunities, which she has capitalized on heartily. She’s enjoyed a storied career thus far: she started acting at the age of five, has been modeling since age twelve and has had her art exhibited at the prestigious La Maison Moliere. In 2012, she released her critically acclaimed debut album, Places, which went platinum in her native France. Her sophomore album, Lay Low, was released in 2015, and while it didn’t receive the same amount of fanfare as her debut, it still landed the number three spot on the French pop charts. Four years later, she’s returned with her third full-length album, Soliloquy.
Doillon unapologetically wears her influences on her sleeve. Every timbre on this record can be attributed to one of her many influences. In other words, she’s not trying to break any new ground here. The guitar tones featured on this album, specifically on the tracks “Too Much” and “Burn,” are ripped straight from The Cure’s 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
This isn’t to say that her personality doesn’t shine through on a handful of songs. “The Joke” is absolutely dripping with the trademark French suave agro-swagger that pervaded the music of her mother’s era. While she touches on a handful of different genres, she never fully commits to one. For instance, on track four, “Last Time,” she employs a bizarre combination of somber heavy piano and recurring reggae syncopation. The entire thing comes off as a mildly perverted Ace of Base song, while simultaneously being more enjoyable than most Ace of Base songs (which is an admittedly low bar.)
Perhaps the most honest, engaging and emotionally charged moment on the album happens on the title track when she drops the line “I’m sick of this pity / and sick of this pain / I’m sick of my name.” Being born into such an illustrious musical dynasty might sound desirable initially, but it comes with an enormous amount of pressure; everything you do artistically will be held to a higher standard.
About two-thirds of the way through the album, it becomes apparent that Doillon has developed a crutch: she persistently saves the most compelling aspects of a song for the very last moments, and then she doesn’t allow them to develop fully. The eighth track, “Flirt,” is a rather docile affair. It is a quaint maudlin song driven by some drumline-style snares, chunky piano chords, a string arrangement and plucky synth basslines. But something amazing happens in the last forty-five seconds or so; suddenly the strings start to stutter, the drums become more frenetic, the piano begins playing this wonderfully dismal downward spiraling melody until it cuts out and returns once more to the tame chorus, plodding along until an abrupt ending.
She employs the same technique on the following track, “Nothings.” Beneath some acoustic arpeggios and cellos is a captivating Vangelis-esque synth wash, which gradually crescendos, distorts and overtakes the other instruments. The listener finds themselves engulfed in a wonderful maelstrom of synths and bombastic percussion, but right as it starts to settle into a solid groove, it quickly fades out. She does this one last time before the album concludes, on the second to last track, “Windows.” Another solemn acoustic guitar driven ballad, complete with a string accompaniment and some pounding kick drum to drive it along. As the piece concludes, the volume rises relentlessly and the piece culminates in something magnificent, a sound akin to an orchestra tuning up.
All things considered, Soliloquy is an undeniable improvement from her last album. The place where this album truly shines is its fantastic production, no doubt in large part to the contributions made by the dream team of the co-producers she recruited for the album: Dan Levy of The Dø, Benjamin Lebeau of The Shoes and the singer/songwriter powerhouse Cat Power. Ultimately, this project is tailored for listeners who might be looking for a little something to scratch that indie-pop itch or merely bide their time until Phoenix drops their next album.