Review Summary: To impress me, you need more than action hero clothes and sex appeal.
That’s a good point. What else do you need? When you hear the 1,000th band trying to innovate while blending pop’s instant gratification with the rougher edges and guitar solos of rock, you might wonder what makes for a successful approach amongst the lot. What is that magical spark that makes certain bands wildly successful, whilst others sound samey to a fault?
The Belgian collaboration of singer-songwriter An Pierlé and White Velvet provides a clear answer: a sense of theatricality. Their 2006 collaboration An Pierlé & White Velvet
isn’t very theatrically titled, but that might just be the only untheatrical thing about it. Each individual song here is like a chapter in a book, constantly painting their own colourful, engrossing pictures. When the huge choruses and enormous drama of Snakesong are over, you dive straight into the humppa and carefree goofiness of Mexico. And take the contrast between the album’s centre – and perhaps its highlight track – Tenderness, with its melancholy first half growing into a gorgeous mid-section, which flows directly into the cabaret-style claps, honky-tonk piano, and oohs and aahs of It’s Got To Be Me.
The band goes through so many different moods in 52 minutes that you might wonder how they manage to keep it all together, for they absolutely succeed in doing that. One of the main factors that help them pull this off, and a huge boost to the album’s theatricality, is An Pierle’s voice. Her singing is very effective in conveying emotions. She has been compared to Kate Bush in the past, and for once the comparison isn’t that far-fetched at all. Her delicate falsetto, deep belts, huffing and puffing, whistling, doo-doo-aahs, and even something that’s on the edge of becoming a growl, follow each other up like it’s nothing. On top of that, she manages to carry the stories with great ease, easily drawing the listener in by means of her compelling intonation and delivery. She brings sex-appeal too, by sounding highly sensual and husky when the music requires her to. And just moments later, she almost turns into a theremin (check Poor Danny if you don’t believe me)!
Another main factor in both this album’s success and its coherence is the instrumentation. White Velvet seem to be able to play anything, throwing whatever they want at the listener, whenever they feel like it. Be it trumpets and alien sounds soaring up in the sky in the aforementioned highlight Tenderness, or the same trumpets in I Love You, or the flute touches in the post-chorus of Jupiter, followed by barely noticeable cellos. One moment you get a silly organ, during the intro of Good Year, the next it is the humppa approach of Mexico, or It’s Got To Be Me’s vaudeville vibes, complete with egg shakers and Dumbo-drum/clown-falls-on-his-ass sounds. On top of that you’ve got the icy-cold and harsh strings of Cold Winter, contrasted by the neurotic paranoia of Not The End, driven by intense guitars. The album boasts so many musical ideas, with equally as many different instruments thrown into the mix, but their honest and theatrical approach easily keeps it from falling apart.
Naturally, their approach isn’t new. Just like Pierlé’s singing, the band takes much inspiration from Kate Bush in their approach. We can also discern Radiohead-like moments here and there. Yet for these similarities with past greats, Pierlé & Co create such a strong sense of urgency, so flawlessly integrating all of their separate influences and generously throwing musical ideas left, right and centre, that this album does stand out from the crowd. Easily. Between these flawlessly integrated musical ideas, each track accomplishes a unique, different feel. The consistently strong sense of theatricality and emotionally frank vocals orchestrate the band's successful approach to weird, poppy rock.
After all of this you can still wonder why some bands get super popular, whereas others stay relatively under the radar, even though they bring so much to the table. Might it be the nondescript, weird cover art? A collaboration between two forces that are not well-known at outside of their native Belgium? Whatever it may have been, this album feels like a powerful statement, without any given explanation, that the fact that it remains a hidden gem is wonderful.