Sunday, August 31, 2008

Musique D'Express (1990)

Express clothing stores were the number one source for fashion-savvy American women to indulge in sleek, Parisian style. Conceived as a younger, hipper version of its parent company, The Limited, Express channeled the streamline fluidity and comfort of European fashion. Even their clothing displays were chic. One of my earliest memories in a shopping mall is of an Express display: mannequins resembling surrealist painter René Magritte’s bowler-hatted men with apples hovering in front of their faces, set against red brick walls with silhouettes of cut-out sky behind them. During this golden age in the clothing retailer’s history, Express was miles ahead of the rest of the mainstream. Yet amidst all this thought-provoking fashion there was one key element that cemented and secured Express’ slick ambiance - the amazing playlist of French pop music they piped through their speakers.

In 1990, through Polygram Records, Express released a compilation cassette, called Musique D’Express. The album is rich with the energetic stylings of sophisiti-pop at the ’80s-’90s cusp. Even today its tracks are a lush selection of fresh sounds and artists that most American ears are unfamiliar with. I was six-years-old at the time. I remember the display for the tape next to the register, and I remember my mom buying it. It must seem strange that I have such vivid memories of a clothing store. However, something profound and subconscious was at work. I grew up without MTV, there wasn't a hip older relative bringing the mainstream world to me, and I was too young to pay much mind to the pop culture surrounding me. The tape's attractive harmonies and mysterious, moody lyrics. were a first taste of what I'd been missing. New wave, pop, modern rock and all the other music of the time was trapped in the background as melodies I was effected by but could never capture. I distinctly remember overhearing Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” and Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way it is” in a grocery store around this same time and being bewitched by them. It was many years later before I ever figured out what the songs were and who was behind them. Musique D’Express was a crystallization of many musical sensations I was only beginning to understand.

Niagra’s “Soleil d’Hiver” glistens like sunlight through glass bricks, Claudia Phillips’ “Picasso” and Luna Parker’s “Fric Frack” are collages of splashy synths and summertime fun, and Pauline Ester’s “Oui, Je l’adore” is a big band twirl through night rhythms and soft focus lenses. Meanwhile, on the opposite spectrum, legendary French singer, Serge Gainsbourg, re-renders the French classic “Mon Légionnaire” into a grungy, grinding funk set to a sexy bass line. The video for the song is a gem of conceptual excess, featuring a smokey factory setting with muscly urban dancers. François Feldman’s “J’ai Peur” shares “Mon Légionnaire”’s dark beat but with a faster, more danceable, tempo. Feldman’s other track on the album, “Joue Pas“, is a duet with the soulful-voiced Joniece Jamison where pop and R&B meet at a compelling middle ground. From the jaunty stroll of Lio’s “Tu Es Formidable” to the dreamy saxophone-lit melodies of Vanessa Paradis‘ “Soldat” and “Joe le Taxi“, Musique D’Express is perfect for any kind of cool you want to be.

I listened to the album all through my childhood, but at some point in my adolescence it got swept by the wayside. When I wanted to find it again, I couldn’t remember the name of the album, the titles of the songs, or any of the artists - I hadn’t paid attention to any of that as a kid. I only remembered the tape itself. With the nagging memory in mind, I spent a good deal of time fretting over finding the tape, or at least figuring out what it was called. I searched online, I scoured thrift stores, I even e-mailed Express and asked about it, but they didn’t know who to go to with a question about a promotion that old. Finally, I managed to type the right combination of words and Google delivered to me an Amazon page where used copies were being sold.

I now present to you Musique D’Express ten succulent tracks (plus the weird little tones that play before the side changes). It is one of the finest compilations of its time, personifying a specific moment in music that is frequently overlooked - a virtual time travel transport to the harmonics of 1990s France, or perhaps a shopping mall somewhere in the past.

FILE: Musique D'Express (1990)

- Cap


Bryce said...

I LOVE Lio. I was in Belgium this summer and picked up some records (I've had no luck finding them in the states). When I bought some at what's considered one of the coolest record stores in Brussels, the owner told me "Hey, I knew her back when she was 16." Thanks for the musicz, pumped to hear 'em!

NIck said...

Oddly enough, yesterday I randomly recieved a promotional email from express and I had no clue who they were... then there is you. BEAUT.

-Nick (the better one)

Cap Blackard said...

Truly we are all interconnected beings. BTW guys, there was some errors and modifications that needed to be made with the files that have been corrected in the current download. Bryce, good to hear from you man - that is so odd. I've been poking around trying to find some records or CDs of these artists, no luck here. I likewise expect success in my inevitable overseas experience.


Melissa said...

I have not been able to get the Picasso song out of my head for weeks. So finding this list made me happy. Using some of your links and finding the others I made a YouTube playlist of the whole album!

Matvyei said...

GREAT post! So happy to see that other people enjoy this tape as much as I have. I've tried playing it for friends here and there, and without fail get the same shocked expression of disbelief that I'm serious about liking it!

Sadly, I lost my cassette in a move a few years ago and have been trying for awhile to find the individual songs elsewhere. You can download Soleil d'hiver, my personal fav, from iTunes.


John Calvin said...

when the internet really got going back in the dark ages (Thankyou Bob Dole!!!) one of the first things I did was begin a life long search of arcane and rare music that I fell in love with in my younger years.

This particular album came my way back when Structure had replaced Gap as having the coolest clothes for the hip young man.

After the Air Force one of many a vagrant roommate absconded with a bunch of my tapes. Musique D'Express was one of the casualties.

You have filled a HUGE hole in the black vortex of my emotional need!

Now I can suss out each artist and see if their other stuff is as good!

Many thanks!

Jem said...

I've been searching for this for YEARS! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I never owned the cassette, but lived in France in the 90s and loved these tunes. What a shock to come back to the U.S. and hear them in the mall

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Anonymous said...

I have been searching for this for ages and, like you finally entered the optimum search. Hooray! This will be on repeat in my apartment for weeks...

Brenda said...

OMG....Thank you for sharing this. I had purchased this tape and was amazed at it then as I am now...I was a Junior in high scholl in 1990 and was different from all the rest...Thank you so very much for posting this. I cannot say that enough.