Just as Stereolab’s melding of American and French space-age pop styles with krautrock in large part ignited the lounge music resurgence of the 1990s in the Anglo-American music scene, it also rekindled an interest amongst Gallic youth in their own retro-pop. Backward-looking young musicians, from electronic craftsmen Air to singer-songwriters Keren Ann and Benjamin Biolay, sprang up in France. Biolay is a fairly big deal there (he even managed to marry the daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni), but his little sister Coralie Clement is making bigger waves elsewhere. Her debut, Salle des Pas Perdus, is quite a charmer as far as continental pop goes, but that’s as far as it goes. Produced and mostly written by Biolay, it’s firmly in the breathy sex kitten tradition of Jane Birkin, Claudine Longet and Francoise Hardy (with a little Astrud Gilberto samba thrown in for good measure), but it does nothing to shake up the tradition. Clement possesses a pure, sweet voice that suits the material fine but, at the end of the day, Salle des Pas Perdus is a French réponse to Combustible Edison — a perfect recreation of an earlier period in pop, but so what?
Bye Bye Beauté is much better, as Clement, Biolay and their new friend Daniel Lorca of Nada Surf follow Stereolab’s lead in incorporating rock styles into the cabaret-pop proceedings. The music is still ’60s-vintage continental pop, but with loud percussion, discordant, fuzzed-out guitars and off-kilter and sometimes downright bizarre horn parts thrown into the mix. The result is like a Brigitte Bardot movie projected through a lava lamp — disorienting, beautiful and very French. The calm “Gloria” suddenly slides into what sounds like an army of flautists playing the same song at different speeds before transitioning into “L’Enfer,” which sounds an awful lot like Luna (who covered Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde” on Penthouse). The jaunty “Un Beau Jour Pour Mourir” is the closest Clement comes to an outright Stereolab tribute, while “Kids (Jeu Du Foulard)” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Yo La Tengo album. Lorca duets with Clement on “Maus Pourtant en Dou” and makes a convincing Gainsbourgian sleazy lounge lizard. Bye Bye Beauté shows strong creative growth over the debut, with Clement co-writing some of the most impressive tracks on the disc with Biolay and Lorca. An enormously impressive album.