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He’s been called the “future of sound” and “the biggest thing to come out of France since frog legs.” A prominent figure in France’s electronica scene, Mirwais now sets his sights on American stardom with his latest release, Production. Best known here for producing Madonna’s hit single “Music,” the 39-year old is clearly attempting to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into pop success. However, with an album in which the misses far outweigh the hits, Mirwais’ stunning lack of sustained solo talent is the only clear point to emerge from Production’s muddled sound.
The album starts with a bang and ends with a (synthesized) whimper. In a possible bid to define himself as a new icon of electronica, Mirwais goes all out in his first track, “Disco Science.” Hardly a second goes by without some sound effect or riff slashing across the tapestry of the sample. The sound evokes leather jackets, flashy cars and a style that is as much nightclub as it is disco. With a bass that’s downright sleazy and a palette of rhythms flavored with striptease, “Disco Science” delivers on every one of its seductive promises.
One barely has time to recover before the Frenchman delivers the second half of his one-two punch with “Naive Song.” Upbeat and uplifting, the track creates a brand new world of escapist fantasies. Mirwais’ voice, delivering banal yet somehow appropriate lyrics, is filtered through a vocoder to encapsulate an otherworldly effect. Sounding at times like the soundtrack to a car commercial, “Naive Song” nevertheless manages to successfully fuse electronic sensibilities with a more conventional pop motif. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here, and though Mirwais manages a precious few more coruscations before the album is over, it isn’t nearly enough to salvage this Production. The best thing one can say about the third track, “V.I. (The Last Words She Said Before Leaving)” is that it is dull and repetitive. This effort (in that it’s an effort to listen to) falls far short of the bar set by the first two tracks; amateur Internet remix geeks have come up with far better. It’s one thing to find something good and to stick with it, but there is no logical justification for Mirwais’ almost obsessive repetition of the same, horrible samples. Skip this track. Your eardrums will thank you. “I Can’t Wait” is better, beginning with an interesting faux-oriental motif, and continuing on to tread more familiar pop rhythms. True to its title, it succeeds in conveying expectation and pregnant longing. As the track plays on, Mirwais adds further layers of nuance, utilizing scratches and other effects (including a poignant background vocal cry of “I can’t wait”) to abstract, smashing success. Connoisseurs of fine music are encouraged to avoid the ordeal of “Junkie’s Prayer.” Dramatic instrumental music is present—unfortunately it is obscured by a stunningly uninsightful voice-over. Horrendous lyrics that could have come from a random French to English translator sound as if Mirwais recorded it while on a thousand downers. Perhaps that was intentional, given the title, nevertheless, the effect falls short of its intentions. Deliberate stupidity is stupidity all the same.
And his “Definitive Beat” is anything but. Clearly an attempt to outdo Leftfield at its own game, it fails, and miserably at that. While Leftfield’s pulsating “Phat Planet” is a listenable, likable tune suffused with kinetic joy and drenched in brilliant shades of electronic tones, Mirwais’ own entry resembles nothing so much as a broken record, mindlessly churning out the same garbage ad nauseam. The vital energy is lacking, leaving nothing behind but a sparse wasteland of broken notes.
Mirwais (finally!) takes a backseat to someone else on the following track; no surprise there, as it’s Madonna herself who takes control of “Paradise (Not For Me)”, which also appears on her album Music. La Ciccone’s smooth vocals transform the track into something resembling a fine wine, smooth, fiery, and romantic. Unfortunately, this vintage is a little too bland considering the famous source. While nothing particularly groundbreaking, it does at least show that Mirwais can do better work behind the scenes.
Just when one is about ready to turn this disc into a drink coaster, along comes the finest track in the entire album, “Never Young Again.” Rising from the sludge of bad electronica like a Yamaha phoenix, “Never Young Again” is about movement, anticipation, and energy that’s barely held in check. Strings lend a brief, ethereal quality to the music, while youthful energy pulsates, then pauses briefly before resuming again, this time with an almost melancholy maturity subtly supplanting its earlier exuberance.
Some artists were meant to be stars, conquering the music world with either their charisma or flare (think Madonna), their unique sound (think Rolling Stones), or a combination of both (the king of pop, Michael Jackson). Mirwais fails to fall into any of these categories, despite his best attempts; he even sports some bizarre wire facial ornament on the cover of the album. If he’s attempting to make a statement, he fails, unless the statement is “I’m a Borg.” And someone please tell him to keep that jacket closed, for goodness’ sake. To his credit, Mirwais tries his best on this album, but all his effort only hammers home the point that his talents are better suited to production than Production.
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