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Stromae: Racine Carrée [Limited]

Album Notes

After getting a sizable hit with "Alors on Dance" from his 2010 debut, Stromae chose not to fret and took three full years to deliver his sophomore album. Released in the fall of 2013, Racine Carrée went on to become one of the biggest records of the season in Europe, topping the French, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and Swiss charts, helped by a string of smash singles such as "Ta Fête," "Papaoutai," "Formidable," and "Tous les Mêmes." At first look, Stromae's pumping Euro-disco with a dash of hip-hop and world music may seem fairly indistinguishable from offerings by many others artists on the Continent. As incongruous as it sounds, what sets Stromae apart from his peers are actually his lyrics -- something that you do not hear too often (read: never) when discussing dance-oriented entertainers. Indeed, many would be bewildered upon hearing that Belgian and French critics were quick to point out Jacques Brel as a major influence, a statement that could only sound positively ludicrous or downright heretical to non-Francophone ears. And yet, both Stromae's diction and his scathing attack on prejudice and small-mindedness (updated to an urban, racially mixed society plagued with issues of identity, rather than the petite bourgeoisie) establish a clear link to the legendary songwriter, even if Stromae is more humorous than cruel and more compassionate than misanthropic. The Belgian-Rwandan young prodigy is at heart much closer to a singer/songwriter than to an EDM producer and DJ, which turns Racine Carrée into a very unusual kind of dancefloor filler. After all, how many albums designed for clubs feature songs that deal with subjects such as absent fathers, cigarettes and cancer, AIDS, racism, sexism, or social isolation created by the Internet? At the same time, Stromae's dual nature is also a two-edged sword: while their throbbing pulse can turn these tracks into hits and present his material to a bigger audience, listening to track after track being insistently punctured with seemingly the same grating horn-sounding synth can eventually become infuriating. In this context, excursions outside of the disco like the homage to Cesária Evora (another unexpected reference) "Ave Cesária," the sweet African cadence of "Moules Frites," or the slower grooves of "Formidable" and "Quand C'est?" function as much-needed pit stops. Rewarded with vast commercial and critical success, Racine Carrée will be remembered as Stromae's breakthrough album and a major validation of his considerable songwriting talents. Stromae's challenge from now on will be how to manage the seemingly contradictory tendencies inherent to his vision. ~ Mariano Prunes


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