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Avant Que L'Ombre (Before the Shadow) is the 2005 release from Mylene Farmer. This was the first Mylene album I had been given so I had no idea what to expect from her but from her voice and the song titles the comparison is so strong that it has created something overwhelming.
Mylene can be recognised by her red hair. I recently saw her Millennium Tour from 2000 on DVD and she is easily recognised on the stage (such a shame she was dressed like a chicken!). She is a French language singer born in Quebec and her lyrics do contain English words but I haven't heard much of her other work to know if this is her only two language choices. She is a very big star in France but much about her life isn't known. She has several albums released already but I don't have many of them. Her voice is very distinctive and at times I am waiting for her to begin because her voice is so soft it does sound as though it is just backing vocals. In the album Mylene sings every vocal which is quite surprising because there are some which don't sound like her at all. Some of the notes are very high but she reaches them and sometimes there is a little quiver in her voice.
In terms of the album being used by a non native French speaker, I am so glad the lyrics are contained with the album or I would never have had any idea what she was singing. Unlike other French language singers like Patricia Kaas or Lara Fabian she doesn't have a clear pronunciation to hear each word being said - the softness merges the words to create a lovely sound. This can really only be a problem for the lyrics that are not contained but these are very few. The whole album was written by Mylene and the music by Laurent Boutonnat and extremely high quality. The album I have is a double set with the album and a DVD containing the 'Fuck Them All' video and Making Of....
The first single from the album and one of those power songs when you hate the world is 'Fuck Them All'. From the provocatively dress Mylene on the cover, this could have a different meaning but video contained on the DVD clears this point up. For such powerful words, the voice just doesn't seem to match. I could imagine Mylene singing the verses to a child to help them sleep but the chorus has clear strength with female vocals clearly promoting the power of the words but also male sounding vocals singing 'blood and soul' at the end of the chorus. The instrumentals are very full on as the songs nears its end compared to the start which is probably just a keyboard - the sound is soft so each chord merges with the next. 'You bitch your not on the list, you witch, you suck, you bitch what's your name again?' are spoken words by Mylene seen on the DVD. The tone of the song is anger and one to release some tension by singing along to it if feeling that way. I really like the song - once knowing the lyrics it is easy to follow and the English lyrics do also help.
I have two favourites on this album and those are 'Dans les rues de Londres' (In the streets of London) and 'Derrière les Fenêtres' (Beneath the Windows). The first begins with gentle keyboard playing and doesn't change. Mylene's soft voice is constant 'but you know, her soul is beautiful, in the streets of London'. The song itself is actually about the English writer Virginia Woolf which cleared up why she sang 'Virginia' in the song! The beat is quite jumpy which makes it a little more upbeat but the whole song has a ghostly feel with the vocals sounding like a choir. The harmonies are in parts to give some of the lyrics extra strength. "Mais tu sais, son âme est telle
Dans les rues de Londres
j'ai puisé plus de lumières
qu'il n'en faut pour voir...
Dieu a des projets pour elle
et les rues de Londres
Souffleront sur des mystères
d'une autre fois...
The latter song is a similar style but Mylene's voice is a lot stronger than the instrumentals. It is another song crying out with this person dreaming of a perfect world but they are stuck behind windows and forgotten. There is a lovely cello solo before the last chorus strikes up. Xylophones are also used with the keyboards. "The light is invisible in our eyes". The exquisite silhouettes of lovers. There must be at least a three part harmony and Mylene manages to do this perfectly - every vocal is hers. The tempo is quite slow and really builds for the chorus giving it such a strong feeling of longing.
'Ange, Parle-moi' (Angel, Tell Me) isn't such a sad sounding song but the lyrics only adding to the pain of those singing it. It's like someone in such desperation they are looking for something to believe in. 'Don't let me die, l'ange' 'Dis-moi si tu es là' = 'don't let me die, angel tell me if you are there'. The vocals at the start of the song are much clearer than other songs sung by Mylene. Each of the words is clearly pronounced and even the English sounds more like her maternal language. The verses are low but when she starts on the chorus her voice rises to a child like voice which really adds to the feel of the song. The piano and an acoustic guitar seem to be the most prominent with the keyboard in the background merging the chords.
'Redonne-moi' is quite similar to 'Ange ' although the tone stays on the same level and hardly changes at all. It is quite slow and the instrumentals are very low on the scale compared to Mylene's high voice. In the chorus it is like two separate voices. The lines beginning 'Redonne-moi' are low and almost spoken words compared to the higher separating lines. Once the 2 verses and chorus have been sung twice there is a small clarinet solo before it repeats the chorus again. It is the ghost that is walking that she wants the memory back and the debris from her dreams.
'J'attends' is very slow compared to its previous track on the album 'L'amour n'est rien '. It has a similar beat but isn't quite so happy. This is one of the songs where it is practically impossible to guess the words - the only one is the title that I can still get! It is a track that is very like a choir singing even though there is only Mylene. She is waiting for love and all that separates them is distance which she cries about. "Tu es ma vie" - You are my life.
The title track 'Avant que l'ombre' has a slow steady beat telling Jesus how she is scared. It is a very spiritual song and introduces what the rest of the album is about. It is a great opening track and obvious why it was chosen as the title of the album because it brings in the same feelings as the others songs. She needs to know if she is guilty. She doesn't die to burn but to let her past relive. She is afraid of the pain. The piano plays and the keyboard.
"Jésus ! J'ai peur
Oh ! Jésus ! Seigneur !
Suis-je coupable ?
Moi qui croyais mon âme
'Q.I' is funny because all the words have very similar sounds and if you don't understand what is being said it just sounds like she is making it up! Everything seems to rhyme with the title which is pronounced 'qoo eeh' - vie, lit, vu des cul The keyboard plays one chord that then sounds as though it is echoed several times again which exactly mirrors the vocals. The chorus is a little more optimistic. Q.I is the other way round in English to be IQ. She uses the IQ of men to decide if they are for her. Even when they are in bed together it is the chemistry they have together.
'Porno Graphique' has quite a scary beginning. It is like crows screeching but these sound a little more human like a few seconds in. The noises are echoed before the keyboard (piano sounding), static beat and drums takes over. Mylene's vocals are doubled so she has an extremely low and normal sounding vocal. The lyrics are not so much sung in this track except in the chorus but spoken. It sounds so serious. There are other vocals from what sound like younger boys but it is still Mylene but it plays a small role to repeat a few of the vocals. Mylene laughs at the end
'Aime' is an electro pop song. With Mylene's backing vocals which are more clearly backing rather than main vocals. This repeats 'Aime' a few times. This is a song I am not so keen on but it is hard to give a specific reason why. It is quite hard to sing along to. Everyone speaks of love yet there are battles. 'Peut-etre toi' (Perhaps you) begins with the English lyrics 'Shut Up!' and is more of a dance track. The constant fast beat and the lyrics in French meaning 'I want you, like I need you'. As the song nears its end the backing vocals start to sing 'shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up' in English. The lyrics and the voice fit perfectly together with the echo giving the image of a train or the stars in the sky sparkling.
'L'amour n'est rien' forgetting about the meaning just sounds quite funny. It is almost like a playground song where they make fun of someone. It is one of the most upbeat on the album because it is much faster in tempo with instrumentals that sound so much brighter than depressing. It is the only song I have had the most difficulty in learning the lyrics to because it is a bit faster and there is a lot to learn - this one has the most lyrics. The meaning 'Love isn't nothing' is carried on through the song - 'La vie est belle, elle est de miel' = life is beautiful, it's the best. Sex is important to keep love alive - it would become boring and that is when all the shouting begins. I love Mylene's voice in this song - the instrumentals and voice are a perfect balance - her voice isn't so high that she is straining it.
'Et pourtant' (And Yet) has to contain some of the highest notes on the album and can easily be created by trying to sing the highest notes you can - this is exactly the sound created! The acoustic guitar is the prominent instrument in the song but it also contains a piano (can't be heard that much) and the keyboard providing a flawless background harmony. This in an extremely calming song singing of the day waking up the world like it has before. Love is waves of innocence and you glimpse the path which is threatened by shadows and yet love is fulfilled. I really love this one at times. It is great to just chill out to - no harsh words and very soothing.
While the CD cover only claims to have fourteen tracks, there are actually fifteen. Hidden away in the depths of track fourteen, there is a two minute gap before the hidden song begins. I was told about this when I was given the CD so I didn't have the joy of discovering it. This is the only track that does not have lyrics in the booklet but from what is sung, I'm guessing the song is called 'Nobody Knows'... luckily a lot of the lyrics are in English for this song. It's a shame the song has to be connected to track fourteen because it is quite different. It begins with flutes as though there is a concert rehearsal with a strong beat and Mylene with a much deeper voice. Her voice is still quite soft but each word can easily be distinguished. The piano sounding keyboard has clear notes but the whole song sounds quite space age at times. The verse is repeated twice and there are a lot of 'Nobody Knows' so there isn't much to it. I wouldn't call it a filler just a nice surprise.
The CD as a whole is extremely well put together and all the songs relate to each other in one way or another. Mylene has such a soft voice but she is able to change it so it has a completely different feeling and sound that it could be another person. The album is quite sad but if you don't know the lyrics it is still an extremely good album to have just for the music which is of such a high quality. Mylene has such a different style to any of the artists I have heard before - even those that sing in English.
The DVD only contains 2 tracks - the 'Fuck them All' video and the 'Making of' the video. The Making of is good but it is in French and there are no subtitles so unless you can understand it, it is still good to watch. The DVD begins with Mylene standing in a field of white snow. A shadowed image which is quite scary then reveals itself - almost like a scarecrow - a cross with a mask (almost like the mask used in the 'Scream' films and with black fabric blowing in the wind. The music is just some of the instrumentals from the song but they are constantly repeated. The clip begins with Mylene cantering on horseback through a deserted forest into a deserted building. The setting is very dark but her hair colour and fire are accentuated. She is a prisoner with cuts on her face and her long hair hacked off. There are two Mylene's in the film. The first with the cuts dies and is uncovered by the second who is a much stronger character she finds a field of the scarecrows cutting them down with a sword as to say she can't be beaten.
The Making of shows the forest the film is to be shot - it looks so cold, everyone wearing huge jackets. They set up the amps and the horse and film Mylene riding. There are very few words spoken and music plays over the top. This moves onto Augustin Villaronga (the director of the video) saying a few words. They move into the deserted warehouse. Everything was drawn on a cartoon strip so they knew what was to be filmed. The crows, the cage and Mylene's look towards the cage have to be shot perfectly. The scene in the field with the scarecrows has the locals interested as they look on. The music used in the background is from several of Mylene's previous albums although I haven't heard any of them. The Making might seem pretty pointless to watch but it is good to see how everything is actually done - the crows have been trained and some parts are separate but put together by special effects.
The whole DVD is quite short but what is there is top quality. The picture is superb - almost too perfect and seems a little like some American film. There is no colour - everything is in black, whites and greys except for the red of her hair and the peach of her lips and skin.
The booklet is useless in terms of tracks - they have stuck all the lyrics in the wrong order so you have to search through it to find the song and even then it doesn't have the track numbers! The booklet like the CD box is all black and the text is horrible for several reasons. It is like handwritten French with swirly letters and the 'r's written the way a French person would write them. It does make it harder to read but I'm getting used to it now. Another reason I don't like it is because there are pictures and the text is written over some of them - when these are in colour, they have decided to change the colour of the text so it is 'easier' to read The lyrics are also all over the place so you have to listen to the song first to know which order you are supposed to be reading it in! Argh!
I love the case this CD and DVD came in. It is a 3 fold cardboard case with the CD and DVD at each end. The centre piece then folds up and another down to create a flat pack cube (without a top) but under all these flaps is the booklet well hidden. All the pictures are quite provocative - pictures of Mylene's cleavage, her dress unzipped at the back, short dresses and fishnet tights. The casing is very well designed and protects the CD / DVD which is of course the most important thing!
The price of this CD/DVD has varied a lot - I've been watching it on Amazon. When I first got the CD (from a friend in Switzerland), it came on Amazon a few weeks later at the extortionate price of £101 - no, I'm not joking! And this was only for the CD! I asked my Swiss friend about it and he said there is also another version which is in a velvet case. I don't think this is the case with the Amazon link as it has lowered to about £30. There is another import on the site now with the version I own for £11.99 which is amazing value considering there are 2 disks and it is top quality. I could be paying £20 for only a CD from my favourite French singers!
1. Avant que l'ombre
2. Fuck them All
3. Dans les rues de Londres
6. Porno Graphique
7. Derrière les Fenêtres
9. Tous ces combats
10. Ange, Parlez-moi
11. L'Amour n'est rien
13. Peut-être Toi
14. Et Pourtant + hidden track (Nobody Knows)
Label: Stuffed Money
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Avent Que L'Ombre